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Next Man Up: Players stepping up due to injury

Photo by Pat Pryor

Written by Roy Countryman

Week 1 in the NFL season saw some big name players go down to injuries, not only in the short term, but rather overwhelmingly in the long term. Here are just a few guys needing to step up, and step into the starting lineups to help offset the loss in production.


Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

Dislocated Ankle with Ligament Damage (IR)

Replacement: Jonnu Smith

Bottom Line

Jonnu Smith was receiving comparisons to Walker when coming out in the draft, and he could have a similar impact in the offense if given the chance. He put up strong receiving production in Conference USA in college, and spent last year honing his craft under the tutelage of Walker in the TE room. Smith has the burst to threaten the seam, and will be able to put in some good work in the move blocking department for the Titans.

Deion Jones, LB, Falcons

Foot Injury (IR-Expected to Return)

Replacement: Duke Riley

Bottom Line

Replacing Jones is going to be a tall task due to his big-time well rounded skill set, especially in the coverage department. Riley slides over from the weak side, and will try let his talent flash from in the middle. He possesses similar speed to Jones, but does not have the same size-so some bigger TE’s could take advantage of him in coverage. The one place where he should shine due to his quick diagnostic ability, and closing speed is coming downhill in run defense. This replacement has a chance to at least buoy the position until Jones can return to full health.

Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers

Refracture of Right Foot (IR-Olsen hopes to Return)

Replacement: Ian Thomas

Bottom Line

This situation is somewhat fluid in who will directly start in place for Olsen, due to Chris Manhertz presence, but he simply cannot stack up to Thomas’s athleticism. Thomas possesses an intriguing blend of speed, physicality, and focus that allowed him to quickly pick up the playbook this spring, and hopefully get the opportunity to get his number called for the start. All in all, this situation might take a committee to replace the excellence of Greg Olsen.

Keanu Neal, S, Falcons

Torn ACL (IR)

Replacement: Damontae Kazee

Bottom Line

A back breaking injury for the defensive backfield in the ATL, but Kazee will now get to show if he can translate his strong Special Teams play to a starting position. He shows good awareness when asked to drop into coverage, and shows a knack for making a break on the ball as well as influencing the play at the catch point. Has some nasty to his game when asked to come downhill in run support. Has a chance to develop into a decent combination S, and has some good game tape in coverage from when he was a CB at San Diego State.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks

Right Torn MCL (Should return in a few weeks)

Replacement: Tyler Lockett

Bottom Line

Lockett is one of the best returners in the NFL, hands down! The only question is can he step his game up and replace the production from one of the best slot WR’s in the game. With slipperiness in his lateral movements, and great vision of the field he shows the necessary skills to be able to help offset the lost production. He needs to show he can beat a Jam, and be able to continue to show he can win on deep routes, and taking short routes for long gains.

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