Josh Hayes

NFC Rumors: Bucs, Lions, Panthers, Packers

The Buccaneers may be considered as a rebuilding squad, but that doesn’t matter much to the players fighting for roster spots in the late preseason. As the regular season inches nearer and nearer, two starting positions are starting to come into focus, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

On offense, center Ryan Jensen has not returned to practice as he continues to recover from three knee ligament tears that he opted not to have surgery on. In his absence, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett have been competing for the starting job. Hainsey likely has a bit of an edge after playing the position in college and starting all 17 games last season for Tampa Bay, but Leverett has meshed well in new offensive coordinator Dave Canales‘ new zone-blocking scheme. Even if Hainsey can’t hold onto the job, Leverett may keep the position competitive.

On defense, Dee Delaney has really stepped up at nickelback after the team opted to move Antoine Winfield Jr. back to free safety full-time. Delaney, who spent four years at The Citadel before transferring to Miami (FL) and going undrafted, has stuck in Tampa Bay, playing 32 games over the past two seasons while starting three of them. Delaney has had a great camp as reflected in a stellar performance in last week’s preseason game against the Jets. Undrafted rookie Christian Izien has also impressed with physical play throughout the preseason, while rookie sixth-round pick Josh Hayes has fallen a bit behind in the position battle.

Here are a few more roster battles to watch heading into the final weekend of preseason games this season:

  • Nate Sudfeld was viewed as a solid backup option at quarterback for the Lions last season. Coming into 2023, though, he may be struggling to retain a roster spot, according to Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. Obviously, Jared Goff has the starting job locked up, but recently signed veteran Teddy Bridgewater has made a strong case for the QB2 role behind him. Sudfeld still has value to the team, but head coach Dan Campbell made it clear that his roster status depends on if he adds more value to the team than depth at other positions on the roster. If CB5 or CB6 end up adding more value than Sudfeld as QB3, he may find himself missing out on the initial 53-man roster.
  • As starting guard Austin Corbett waits to be cleared following ACL surgery, the Panthers‘ situation at guard is feeling a bit precarious. A tweet from Joseph Person of The Athletic tells that a decision on the starting right guard job in Corbett’s absence has been delayed until the returns from injury of rookie fourth-round pick Chandler Zavala and undrafted rookie Nash Jensen. Head coach Frank Reich wanted both rookies to have a chance for the spot before making the decision. Zavala was recently activated from the physically unable to perform list and hasn’t seen much action. Jensen was impressing early in the offseason before a back injury slowed his progress. They’ll compete with Cade Mays and Justin McCray for the position, but Person believes that Carolina may pursue some added competition at roster cutdowns.
  • Last week, the Packers‘ seventh-round pick from last year, Rasheed Walker, got the starting call at left tackle ahead of usual backup Yosh Nijman, according to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic. Nijman has been the usual go-to at tackle when starter David Bakhtiari isn’t available, but Schneidman thinks that Walker may have worked his way past Nijman on the depth chart as of late.

DB Rumors: Elam, Panthers, Bolts, Bucs

The Bills have hoped to plug Kaiir Elam into their starting lineup opposite Tre’Davious White, but the 2022 first-rounder remains in a position battle. Elam is battling 2022 sixth-rounder Christian Benford and veteran Dane Jackson for the boundary job opposite White, Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Elam played 477 defensive snaps as a rookie, but even as White did not debut until Thanksgiving, the younger Buffalo Round 1 corner only started six games. Benford started five of the nine he played, while Jackson led Bills corners with 14 first-string appearances in 2022. The Bills would clearly prefer Elam seize the role, but for now, the Washington product has not distinguished himself as a surefire starter.

Here is the latest from NFL secondaries:

  • Asante Samuel Jr.¬†resides in a similar boat, needing to fend off a lower-profile challenger. Thus far, it appears Samuel has fallen behind Ja’Sir Taylor for the Chargers‘ slot cornerback role. As it appeared in June, Taylor looks to be the favorite to open the season as the Bolts’ slot player, Daniel Popper of The Athletic notes. Samuel’s shaky run defense has concerned the Bolts, per Popper, with Taylor — a 2022 sixth-round pick — seeing time ahead of the second-generation pro as an outside corner last year due to tackling ability. With primary 2022 slot defender Bryce Callahan unsigned, Taylor and Samuel are battling for the position. Despite Samuel’s experience (27 starts) and draft pedigree (Round 2), he may well open the season as the top backup behind a Taylor-J.C. JacksonMichael Davis trio. Having Samuel as a depth piece would certainly benefit the Chargers, with Jackson attempting to come back from a ruptured patellar tendon.
  • The Panthers have played without first-round pick Jaycee Horn for extended stretches, and the 2021 top-10 pick spent time rehabbing another injury this offseason. Horn did not say how he injured his foot this spring, but he is 100% early in Panthers camp. Ditto Donte Jackson, who missed eight games last season due to an Achilles tear. Both starting corners have received full clearance, GM Scott Fitterer said recently.
  • Although the Buccaneers have re-signed Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean in free agency over the past two years, they let Sean Murphy-Bunting leave in March. Murphy-Bunting, who had spent time in the slot in Tampa Bay, left for Tennessee. The Bucs are holding an expansive slot competition in training camp. Zyon McCollum, Dee Delaney, Josh Hayes, Christian Izien and Anthony Chesley are all vying for the gig, Todd Bowles said (via Buccaneers.com’s Brianna Dix and Scott Smith). Delaney and Chesley have both bounced around the league, while Hayes and Izien are rookies. Some of these players will not end up on the Bucs’ 53-man roster, but it is interesting to see a five-man competition for this role. A 2022 fifth-round pick who played 277 defensive snaps last year, McCollum may have the lead here. Bowles expects the second-year cover man to play a big role in the nickel spot, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 6/8/23

Today’s draft pick signings:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have taken their time signing their draft picks; these are the first reported signings out of Tampa Bay, and the team’s top-three picks (including first-round defensive tackle Calijah Kancey) remain unsigned.

Of the late-round grouping, SirVoceaDennis could have the best opportunity to carve out a role as an inside linebacker. The Pittsburgh product will compete with former fifth-round pick K.J. Britt for a key role playing behind starters Devin White and Lavonte David.

Payne Durham and Trey Palmer bring strong college resumes but will need some lucky breaks to see significant playing time in 2023. Durham finished his fourth season at Purdue with 56 catches for 560 yards and eight touchdowns, while Palmer had a breakout season at Nebraska after transferring from LSU, finishing the 2022 campaign with 1,043 receiving yards.