With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, certain backups suddenly have been thrust into the spotlight. After connecting with my sources across the league and digging into the All-22 Coaches Film, here are seven players poised for bigger roles in Week 15.
Arizona has done a lot of shuffling along the offensive line in recent weeks, with Pugh and right tackle Kelvin Beachum (back) battling injuries and Justin Murray and J.R. Sweezy being thrust into bigger roles. With so many players banged up along the O-line, Garcia, a veteran backup who has played a majority of snaps on special teams, could earn some more playing time in the rotation this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. When watching the tape, Garcia works best in a zone run scheme as a quick and instinctive blocker. He plays aggressively, but lacks power to knock defenders back. In pass protection, Garcia is quick and shows some punch, yet lacks anchor ability and gets pushed back into the quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs
Replacing: Mike Remmers (back)
With Mitchell Schwartz (back) on injured reserve and Remmers going down with a back injury last week, the undrafted rookie filled in for Remmers on 24 offensive snaps and gave up a sack against Miami. Andy Reid praised Durant for his play in Week 14. After watching the tape, I'd agree with Reid's positive assessment of a rookie who has improved since his college days. At Missouri, he was viewed as a size prospect (6-foot-7, 330 pounds) with long arms who would be hard to get around but needed to develop his technique. In the run game against the Dolphins, Durant showed aggressiveness, stayed on his feet and was able to cover up his man. However, he has limited foot quickness and redirect ability, which will cause him to have trouble in pass protection with speed rushers, stunts and inside moves. I'd expect Cam Jordan to challenge the rookie with inside moves on Sunday.
All that said, I do think his techniques have improved already from college.
Gesicki, who has 14 receptions for 153 yards and three TDs in Miami's last two games, did not practice Wednesday after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 14, and his status is unclear for Sunday's game. Head coach Brian Flores told the media Thursday that Gesicki is "working really hard. Tough injury last week. He's getting treatment and doing his rehab. We'll see where it goes." Not having Gesicki would be a big loss for Miami, but it would open the door for Shaheen to obtain a bigger role.
The fourth-year tight end has played in 34.3 percent of Miami's offensive snaps in 13 games this season, recording nine catches for 110 yards and three TDs. He's also missed time due to injury over the last two seasons, preventing him from reaching his potential. After watching the All-22 Coaches Film, I assume Shaheen will be most used in the short-to-intermediate passing game, because he lacks the speed to be a deep threat. With excellent size (6-foot-6, 257) and hands that will be an asset in the red zone, the ex-Bear shows quickness off the ball and in his breaks and runs good routes. Shaheen has good balance and effort as a blocker but won't get much movement in the run game.
Pryor has made seven starts for the Eagles this season (six games at right guard, one at right tackle). Doug Pederson confirmed that Pryor will start in place of Driscoll on Sunday in what will be the Eagles' 13th different O-line combination of 2020. When watching the All-22 Coaches Film, Pryor has good technique as a pass blocker, though he must win on his initial set, because he can struggle with quick inside moves and speed on the outside if he has to sustain the block for a fair amount of time. Pryor lacks the natural foot quickness to consistently excel at tackle; he got beat for a sack late in Week 12's matchup with Seattle, when he got bull-rushed back into the quarterback. As a run blocker, the second-year pro has strength and is aggressive but doesn't always finish his blocks. His biggest issue when playing tackle is in pass pro.
Prior to last week's game against New Orleans, in which Seymour played 35 defensive snaps at corner, Seymour had not played in the league since 2017 (with Carolina). Against the Saints, Seymour showed good movement and was a willing tackler. He did get beat by Emmanuel Sanders for a touchdown in man coverage when the Saints wideout ran away from him late in the route, leading me to question the corner's deep speed. He seemed to misplay zone reads at times when he let the receiver get by him on occasion. It could be due to poor instincts or a lack of playing time in the Eagles' scheme. I would expect him to be targeted in Sunday's game vs. Arizona.
After losing McLeod for the remainder of the season in last week's contest, Wallace saw a season-high 28 defensive snaps in relief. Watching the tape against the Saints, I saw that the instinctive defensive back played both the strong and free safety positions in limited snaps and looked athletic and fluid in his movement with good quickness. Though I question his long speed and burst, the rookie seemed to trust his instincts when reacting to the play. He didn't have many opportunities in the run game, but he did give up a touchdown to Alvin Kamara when he took a bad angle that let the running back get around him for a score. When looking at the fourth-round draft pick's scouting report, there were concerns about his size (5-11, 206) hurting him as a tackler, but the Clemson product is willing to come up and play the run. Expect him to improve with more playing time.
Epps, primarily a special-teams player, could also see much more playing time in the secondary in McLeod's absence. On film, he played safety -- both deep and close to the line of scrimmage -- and was smart, aware and a willing tackler. With good movement and quickness as an athlete, Epps is quick to break on the ball, but his range is unclear. Against the 49ers in Week 4, Epps ran with George Kittle down the field and covered a wideout in the slot on a short route -- both situations indicate his football IQ. It'd be unfair to grade him having played a limited amount of man coverage, and it's tough to get a read on him, because most of his playing time was as a deep safety, though I have no strong negative criticism from the film. This isn't all that uncommon when evaluating safeties, because they are not involved in most plays.