NFL rosters continue to shuffle from week to week due to injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic. After connecting with my sources across the league and digging into the All-22 Coaches Film, here are six players poised for bigger roles in Week 11.
The Ravens have three tight ends on the practice squad -- Luke Willson, Sean Culkin and Xavier Grimble -- who could be activated for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. John Harbaugh praised Willson's ability Tuesday, saying, "But I really like Luke. He's a guy that our personnel department knows really well, and of course we've played against him before so we know him a little bit. Good guy, experienced player. So that helps us. It's good to have a guy who's been out there before, knows how to play. We'll just have to see how he fits in with what we're doing."
On film, Willson is a smart player who is best on seam and crossing routes. He struggles to make a cut and beat a defender in man coverage, and although he gives good effort as a blocker, he doesn't sustain blocks well.
Culkin is a blocking tight end who has good strength and sustains well. He doesn't have great speed, so he doesn't pose much of a threat in the passing game. Grimble can be effective on short and intermediate routes vs. zone defense, as he's shown the ability to find the holes. He doesn't have the long speed to threaten defenses deep down the field and lacks quickness to win against man coverage. Like Willson, Grimble lacks the strength to sustain his blocks but gives good effort. In addition, both Willson and Grimble can help on special teams.
Another option for Baltimore would be to use offensive tackle D.J. Fluker as a tight end to block. He is a mauler as a run-blocker and can provide the run game with a boost. The Ravens could also use fullback Patrick Ricard as an H-back (motion TE) to block, although I don't see him as a threat to beat man coverage in the pass game.
Bridgewater was limited Wednesday, and it's still unclear whether or not he'll play Sunday against the Detroit Lions (although it appears unlikely). The Panthers will roll with either P.J. Walker or Will Grier if Bridgewater can't go. The two backups split reps with the starters during Wednesday's practice, and Matt Rhule has yet to declare which player will back up Bridgewater or potentially get the start.
Walker, who played four seasons under Rhule at Temple, has completed three of eight pass attempts in two on-field appearances this season. The former XFL star is an athletic quarterback who can create plays with his mobility. And though he has a good arm and nice touch on the ball, the 5-foot-11 passer will get some passes batted down due to his size. Walker struggled vs. the blitz last week against Tampa Bay, as he had trouble reading the defense from the pocket and lacked anticipation when throwing the ball, which leads to inaccuracy. For the Panthers to find success with Walker under center, they should use bootlegs, run-pass option plays and spread formations to create lanes to throw through.
Grier has yet to see the field in 2020 but struggled mightily when getting thrown into "an impossible situation" in two starts last season, tossing four picks (one was returned for a TD), taking six sacks and losing a fumble. Last year's third-round draft pick admitted to struggling with calling plays and went back to the basics during the offseason. When watching Grier in college, I saw a good athlete who excelled in run-pass option plays but struggled against defenses he was unfamiliar with. If Grier gets a chance, he could be an entirely different player with more talent surrounding him this year.
Los Angeles Rams
Fuller beat out Rapp, who dealt with a knee injury in training camp, for the starting strong safety position at the start of the season but landed on IR due to a shoulder issue. In his first game back, the rookie recorded three tackles in last week's victory over Seattle. With 24 tackles and two passes defensed in his five starts this season, Jordan Fuller has proven to be a good athlete who is fluid in his movements and shows good instincts when reacting to routes. He has shown difficulty in man coverage and I'm not yet sold on his range and long speed. He will support against the run but lacks strength when making tackles.
Joe Noteboom has been a starter at guard for the Rams and now gets a chance to prove himself as a starting left tackle in the wake of Whitworth's season-ending injury. When watching Noteboom's Week 10 performance against Seattle on the All-22 Coaches Film, the third-year pro showed good feel and movement on his set and slide. He often stayed square on the pass rusher but seems to lack top strength to block the bull rush. Noteboom could use some improvement in his technique but is a good, mobile athlete. In the run game, he seems like a natural fit for Sean McVay's zone running scheme. Overall, Noteboom has the talent to play well but needs to get stronger to become a more consistent player at Jared Goff's blindside.
With Myles Gaskin going on injured reserve earlier this month, Salvon Ahmed has seen an increased role over the last two weeks in the Dolphins' backfield, logging seven carries for 38 yards in Week 9 and 21 carries for 85 yards (and his first career touchdown) in his first start last week against the Chargers. When watching the film, the undrafted rookie shows impressive instincts, quickness to and burst through the hole. He plays faster than his 4.6-plus 40-yard-dash time suggests and also plays bigger than his 5-11, 196-pound frame. It remains to be seen how snaps will be split up once Gaskin is ready to return, though at least one obstacle to playing time was removed with the release of Jordan Howard. A player with a lot of upside, Ahmed shows great acceleration after the catch, which leads me to believe he has the potential to really help the Dolphins in third-down situations.