AFC North: Paul Hubbard
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
This Saturday is the worst day in the NFL when it comes to job security.
It’s the time when every team in the league has to trim its final roster to 53 players.
That means each of the 32 teams will have to make some tough decisions on how to release approximately 20 players. After that, coaches and general managers also will scan the waiver wire to see what’s available to upgrade their team, making for one of the most fast-paced weekends of the summer.
With that said, here is a look at tough roster decisions for each AFC North team:
Position: Running back
Why: The Steelers already have a deep group at running back, which includes starter Willie Parker and backups Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. But a relative unknown emerged this summer in rookie free agent Isaac Redman. With rest given to Parker and Moore over the summer, Redman has done a lot with his opportunities. He’s proven to be particularly good at scoring touchdowns within the redzone, which is something Pittsburgh has struggled with in recent years. Keeping four tailbacks active will be tough, so Redman is a candidate for the practice squad. But there are no guarantees another team won’t claim him this weekend.
Why: The Browns entered the offseason in desperate need of wide receivers. Therefore, they brought in as many new players at the position as possible and now it’s time to make a decision. Braylon Edwards and Joshua Cribbs are safe, as well as rookie draft picks Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. After that, things get dicey. The Browns likely will keep just five receivers. Of the remaining group, Mike Furrey had the best preseason and probably played well enough to make the team. Veteran David Patten has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and is on the bubble, but my guess is Patten doesn’t make the cut. Others at the position like Paul Hubbard, Lance Leggett and rookie Jordan Norwood are expected to be released Saturday.
Position: Running back
Why: In what was a weakness most of the last season, the Bengals suddenly have some quality depth at running back this season. So much is the case that the coaching staff has been mulling for weeks what to do with this group when it’s time to put together the 53-man roster. Starter Cedric Benson and rookie Bernard Scott are safe. But DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard are not. Both had good training camps and preseasons. It also doesn’t help that they are different styles of runners. Similar to Pittsburgh, it doesn’t appear likely the team would carry four tailbacks, likely making Dorsey or Leonard expendable.
Why: Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano have competed kick for kick since the spring, and Saturday’s decision will finally put an end to this competition. Most expect Hauschka to be the pick as he’s outperformed Gano in the preseason. But keep in mind the “Matt Stover factor” also looms large. The Ravens have not been afraid to admit that the longtime Raven remains on speed dial if the team’s current kicker slips up. So even if Hauschka is the choice Saturday, he can’t get comfortable.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Although the legal system has yet to run its course, Stallworth could face charges following an automobile accident that killed a pedestrian in Miami Beach. The early reports have not been good and, at the very least, the Browns need to begin examining what's left at receiver.
Let's take a deeper look at Cleveland's roster:
Syndric Steptoe, two years of experience, 19 catches in 2008
With veteran Joe Jurevicius being released, Steptoe could be the leading candidate to start opposite receiver Braylon Edwards if the season started today. Through injuries, Steptoe has had several chances to perform and has been serviceable as a fill in. But the undersized Steptoe (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) is not starter material, and the offense could struggle if he is asked to do so for 16 games next season.
Joshua Cribbs, four years of experience, two catches in 2008
Cribbs in an intriguing option because he remains one of Cleveland's best pure football players. He learned to return kicks on the fly upon his arrival in Cleveland in 2006, and quickly developed into a Pro Bowl player. If asked to be a full-time receiver, could he do it? This would be a risky experiment. The Chicago Bears tried something similar with return specialist Devin Hester last season with mixed results. The new coaching staff in Cleveland will have to determine if keeping Cribbs' main focus on returning and covering kicks is in the team's best interest.
Paul Hubbard, one year of experience, zero catches in 2008
Hubbard is a former sixth-round pick that is still looking for his first opportunity. He has good size (6-foot-3, 221 pounds) and was a favorite of former general manager Phil Savage. But Hubbard would have to prove himself to an entirely new group of coaches. With the way the roster is currently set up, he should get a chance to show what he can do in minicamps and training camp.
At some point, Cleveland's receiver position needs to be addressed in the draft, regardless of Stallworth's legal outcome.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
With the final week of preseason games starting Thursday night, it's a good time to keep close tabs on bubble players from each AFC North team. Rosters will be trimmed from 75 to 53 players by Saturday, which means there are a lot of big decisions to be made on players in the next 48 hours.
Here are some notable bubble players that could help their cause with big preseason games this week:
Skinny: Both young players have been around, know the system well and have shown flashes. But Pittsburgh is stacked with skill players and don't have to wait for both to develop. Receivers Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Limas Sweed will be the top four in this group. Our guess is the Steelers only take five receivers into the regular season.
Prediction: Reid stays, Baker goesPlayers: Punters Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster
Skinny: This competition was created by the season-ending knee injury to punter Daniel Sepulveda. Ernster has been around a little longer and has the edge, especially after last week's performance with three punts inside the 20. But he still could use a strong finish.
Prediction: Ernster stays, Berger goes
Skinny: Coats, a former tight end, has been impressive this summer making the move to fullback. He earned most of the reps, and most likely a roster spot, because Johnson's weight kept him out for most of camp. The Bengals are tired of dealing with Johnson coming into camp out of shape every year. But he's been too good a player for the Bengals to let go so far.Prediction: Coats and Johnson (barely) stay
Skinny: There are a lot of young receivers on this roster behind starters Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. So don't be surprised if one of the proven veterans is let go. Holt and Chatman are both on the bubble because they're undersized and don't fit the system -- Cincinnati prefers bigger, stronger pass catchers. Injuries to Johnson (shoulder) and rookie Andre Caldwell (toe) may scare the team into keeping both Chatman and Holt, but we doubt it.
Prediction: Chatman stays, Holt goes
Skinny: The battle for the No. 3 receiver spot in Cleveland has been underwhelming, to say the least. Now all three of these players could use a big performance tonight against the Chicago Bears to solidify a roster spot. With Syndric Steptoe likely on the 53-man roster, at least two of these receivers, if not all three, will be cut by Saturday.
Prediction: Hubbard stays (or practice squad), Wilson and Sanders goes
Skinny: This decision is more important than it appears on the surface. Hall, a rookie, has been a nice sleeper this summer, and Griffin and McMillan are important cogs on special teams. Luckily, they all play linebacker and Cleveland is a 3-4 team. But one still has to go.
Prediction: Hall and Griffin stay, McMillan goes
Player: Fullback Le'Ron McClain
Skinny: The banged-up Ravens have seven guys already on injured reserve, so there aren't as many significant bubble players. But McClain is one because the team recently signed Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wants more of his style of players to run his offense. The question is, with Neal's injury history, does Baltimore want to risk taking one fullback into the season? Probably not.
Prediction: McClain stays
Cleveland had zero picks in the first three rounds, but drafted linebacker Beau Bell and tight end Martin Rucker in the fourth round, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and receiver Paul Hubbard in the sixth, and linebacker Alex Hall in the seventh round. They all struck deals before the deadline, as the Browns will begin training camp in Berea, Ohio, Wednesday afternoon.