Last week, I gave scouting reports on six players who were suddenly thrust into bigger roles. I'm sticking with this theme a week later, as NFL rosters are still in flux.
After connecting with my sources across the league and digging into the pertinent All-22 Coaches Film, here are 11 players poised for bigger roles in Week 5.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday that safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal were "trending in the right spot." Allen (elbow) has missed the previous two games, and Neal (hamstring) was sidelined in Week 4. If those two aren't on the field, and with the season-ending injury to Kazee, the next man up is Sharrod Neasman, who's smart and tough but not exceptional in any area. Logging 40 defensive snaps at free safety against Green Bay, Neasman played very deep and wasn't involved in many plays as a result, recording just two tackles, including one for a loss. He does show good instincts in zone coverage, but there are still questions surrounding his long speed and ability to close on receivers. If he plays Week 5 against Carolina, I expect the Panthers to test him with deep throws off play-action and crossing routes.
Johnson has big shoes to fill on the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack, but there is optimism after he played well against Dallas last week. Johnson registered a team-high 13 carries for 95 yards on 17 offensive snaps in relief, showing quick feet and the ability to make sharp cuts in the hole. The second-year running back will back up Kareem Hunt, but he should get plenty of burn. According to Next Gen Stats, Cleveland's trio of running backs rank in the top 11 of rushing yards over expected (RYOE) this season: Hunt ranks first with +111 RYOE, Chubb sits third at +102 and Johnson (on just 14 carries) is 11th at +42. Johnson's production in limited action should allow Cleveland, which has run the ball on 53.3 percent of plays, to continue pounding it without hesitation against Indy.
Collins is already done for the season after hip surgery, and now the Cowboys might be shutting down Smith for the rest of 2020 due to a neck issue. Consequently, Dallas will continue reshuffling an injury-riddled line, with Knight poised to man one of the tackle spots. Since entering the league in 2019, Knight has played 11 career games, including all four games this season (he started in Weeks 2 and 3 vs. Atlanta and Seattle). He took a back seat to tackle Terence Steele last week against the Cleveland Browns but came in after Steele gave up two sacks to Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett. Tough, scrappy and smart, Knight stays square in pass protection but can struggle vs. speed. In the run game, Knight is inconsistent in sustaining run blockers. Knight's saving grace in Week 5 is the New York Giants don't have defensive ends with outstanding speed.
UPDATE: Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Friday that Tyron Smith will have neck surgery and is done for the season.
Bobby Okereke, who had surgery Monday to correct a thumb injury, should be able to play Sunday, a team source told me. Leonard's status appears to offer less reason for optimism, so Franklin and Speed could be asked to fill in for the Pro Bowler in Week 5. Franklin has made two starts over three seasons (both in 2018), and his seven defensive snaps this season are tied for the fewest on the team among players who've played at least one snap, per Next Gen Stats. He is a good leader with good instincts. However, he lacks top speed, struggles when taking blocks on and reacts late in coverage. Primarily a special teams player, Speed (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) is long, rangy and has potential, but the second-year pro lacks experience. Whoever starts for Leonard (if he can't go) will be tested by the Cleveland Browns' run-first offense that sets up bootlegs and a dynamic play-action attack.
Los Angeles Chargers
Kelley and Jackson (who is still trying to work off the dust after a Week 1 quad injury) will share the load. Kelley is an explosive rookie with the ability to create, thanks to his excellent vision, toughness and deceiving speed. (He's no home-run hitting burner, but he has the ability to routinely churn out gains of 10-plus yards.) Heading into Monday night's contest with the New Orleans Saints, Kelley is second on the team in touches (59) and rushing yards (174), but he averages well below Ekeler's 5.1 yards-per-carry mark at 3.4. He has good hands out of the backfield, but he must improve in pass protection. Jackson, a dependable backup who shows flashes of talent and natural running ability, could see more action than expected if Kelley continues to have fumbling issues (two fumbles in the last two weeks).
San Francisco 49ers
With Ansah out for the year, these three will rotate in along the 49ers' defensive line. Jordan hasn't been even close to the player Miami envisioned when drafting him third overall back in 2013. He's bounced around the league, missed the 2015 season to serve a suspension and has now found a home in Santa Clara. Jordan has played in 42 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps in each of the last two weeks, recording a sack and recovering a fumble in Week 3, and could share time with Barrett and/or Hyder in Week 5. Barrett was promoted off the practice squad and hasn't played a snap since Week 2 of 2017 with Detroit. He plays with good technique but lacks speed off the edge as a pass rusher. Bigger and better than Barrett, Hyder (6-2, 270) gives maximum effort all the time, shows good power and hand use vs. the run and is best used in pass situations with stunts. Hyder does lack ideal height and speed, but he knows the fundamentals of the position.
Replacing: K'Waun Williams (hip/knee)
Taylor, who's played on five teams since 2018, fits well into Robert Saleh's zone scheme and is likely to take snaps at the nickel spot. Last week in his 49ers debut, the veteran recorded nine defensive snaps, earning a sack on his first play, and didn't allow a reception on six snaps in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. If the opposition can extend him in man coverage, Taylor's lack of speed will hurt him. In addition, he hasn't been strong in run support over the years.