Offense - 24
QB – Cassel, Bridgewater
I really hope that we find a trade partner and pick up a 4/5th rounder for Ponder. He would be a solid experienced #2 for somebody, but we’re not a team that needs him.
RB – Peterson, McKinnon, Line
Felton doesn’t fit NORV’s offense so I’ve kept 4 TEs and dropped the dedicated FB. I went back and forth on Asiata, but felt he’s shown us what he can do, which is pretty much in the Leroy Hoard "if you need 3 yards" category and I think Line has more upside and value as a potential successor to Purple Jesus as well as being able to fill the FB role if needed. McKinnon gives us the 3rd down pass-catching scat back we’ve been looking for.
WR – Patterson, Jennings, Simpson, Wright, Thielen, Colter
The top 4 are set and just about anything can happen after that but I think Thielen has made progress from last year and fits in the slot to back up/succeed Jennings. It would be nice to have another big wideout on the outside, and I like Rodney Smith’s size but I went with Colter for his reliable hands and slipperiness in the slot. He also gives you another emergency QB option. I know that’s two slot guys just above the cut but that’s how I roll.
TE – Rudolph, Ellison, Ford, Leonard
NORM has historically been a big fan of TEs and with Ellison filling the blocking TE postion, I’ve kept four here. Ford played pretty well when Rudy went down last year. I’ve heard good things about Leonard so I’m giving this to him on the basis of youth movement/potential, but this fourth position would be a toss-up with Reisner.
OT – Kalil, Loadholt, Richardson
I know we don’t usually keep just three OTs, but I kept five guards and Charlie Johnson can slide over and be functional/adequate at the left tackle position if Kalil goes down.
OG – Johnson, Fusco, Yankey, Baca, Berger
Hopefully Yankey can supplant Johnson at LG fairly early in the season. Baca has supposedly been coming on as well and may push for starts down the road. Berger is a solid swing guard and provides depth at center too, allowing us to only carry one C.
C – Sullivan
Yeah. That’s it.
Defense - 26
DT – Joseph, Floyd, Evans, Johnson, Baker
I know we drafted Stephen, but he seems like a dedicated nose tackle and he’ll have a hard time displacing Evans who played pretty well last year. He’d have to really show something in camp to make the cut. Sharrif Floyd should be ready to dominate the 3 technique position. He flashed last year but was also nicked up a bit. Johnson is solid depth behind him and can rotate or step in if needed. I went with Baker as the final DT mainly based on his flexibility to play both UT and NT
RDE – Griffen, Crichton
LDE – Robison, Wootton
On each side we have a solid starter and a decent backup and nothing but guys behind them, so I think this is pretty cut and dried.
LB – Barr, Brinkley, Mauti, Cole, Hodges, Greenway
This is probably the most contentious and difficult-to-call group. I would love it if one of the younger guys, maybe Watts or DeCicco were to beat out Greenway and we would just cut him (please read Arif’s piece on how terrible Greenway has been for the last three years) but unfortunately there are $5.5 million reasons why we’re not going to do that and, unlike Ponder, no one is going to be willing to take that contract off of our hands. I see Brinkley starting in the Mike spot, but only in for run downs with Mauti taking over on passing downs. Barr may or may not be ready to start at Sam but will at least be in for rush situations with OMG Audie Cole backing him up otherwise. Our prototypical Will backers are Hodges and Watts, but both are still unproven so I’m only betting on one of them making the roster and I gave the edge to Hodges as the higher pick. Dean would be nice to keep on special teams but we’ve got to rebuild the rest of the team first.
S – Smith, Sanford, Exum, Sendejo, Blanton
This is another tough group to call. Who will start opposite Harrison Smith? No one has really taken over that second safety job. Sanford got better last year, but not clearly head and shoulders above everyone else. We have a high-potential rookie in Exum, a former starter in Raymond, 2nd year man Brandon Bishop has been promising in OTAs, and new free agent Kurt Coleman has starter experience. I gave the nod to Sendejo for his play when Smith was out injured last year and to Blanton on his upside, flexibility (can also play CB), and ST value. The last two places could literally go to any guy in the lineup. I went with five in this position because of the unsettled starting job and the comparative wealth of potential.
CB – Rhodes, Munnerlyn, Cox, Robinson, Sherels, Prater
Rhodes and Munnerlyn are locks. Robinson gets another year to prove himself after moving back to the outside from being misplaced in the slot last year. Sherels would make the team just as a fantastic returner, but also vastly improved his coverage skills last year. He used to be a liability but can now be considered a solid dime back and rotational player. Cox is the wild card. He was also miscast last year in zone coverage and, back in press man coverage in Zimmer’s defense, he could easily return to form as a solid starter. Prater looked pretty good in spot usage last year coming in for injured Rhodes/Cook so I gave him the edge over our two late-rounders. Maybe one of the rookies lights it up in training camp, but we haven’t heard much from either of them yet.
Special Teams - 3
K - Walsh, P - Locke, LS - Loeffler
Loeffler is a free agent next year, so hopefully they’ll bring in a UDFA to knock his $1.14 million off the books, but for this year, these are our ST guys.
Yes, I’m keeping 26 on defense and only giving 24 to the offense because, as you may have noticed, our defense is weaker across the board and has more positions without clear starters.