With just one game left in the preseason, NFL players are fighting for their workplace lives. If they survived the first wave of cuts, there remains just one step before making the final roster. The final preseason game is these players’ last chance to make an impact on their coaches and make their case for a spot on the 53-man roster.
But not everybody necessarily needs that big performance. Some players have already proven their worth enough to likely make the roster. Others have flown under the radar or are locked in the midst of a two or three-man battle for one spot.
In a game that’s solely for evaluating the bottom of the roster, who needs a strong performance to lock in a spot on the roster, and who seems safe?
Mike Adams: Has played well enough when starting that he’s guaranteed a spot on the roster. He may not last the season as a starter, but with Delano Howell out, he seems to be locked in. One poor game may get him demoted to the bench, but not off the roster completely.
Kelvin Sheppard: I know a lot of fans wanted other linebackers to beat him out, but Sheppard’s been in the starting lineup in each of the last two games with Jerrell Freeman and Josh McNary injured. Andrew Jackson has disappointed, and the Colts need at least four inside linebackers.
Henoc Muamba: Muamba has played extremely well thus far, and has the second-best PFF grade on the team. With McNary battling some kind of injury, Muamba seems to be the fourth linebacker at worst. The Colts gave him $107k guaranteed, which is pretty solid for a player off the street. The Colts clearly want him around, and he’s played very well thus far. It would take catastrophe for him to be cut.
Zach Kerr: Arguably the most impressive player so far this month, Kerr has been disruptive in the backfield and stout at the point of attack. The Colts’ depth on the defensive line is non-existent after Ricky Jean Francois and Montori Hughes, so Kerr is the pick for the sixth defensive lineman.
Jonotthan Harrison: Unless Harrison gets hurt, he’s making the final roster. He’s filled in nicely for Khaled Holmes, and the Colts need some insurance in case Holmes’ ankle issues continue to flare up. Sorry Thomas Austin and FN Lutz, but Harrison is that insurance.
Dan Herron: The former Ohio State Buckeye has been the Colts’ best running back, in terms of results, this preseason. With the Colts’ complete lack of depth behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, Herron has quite easily separated himself from the pack.
Andrew Jackson: The Colts sixth-round pick from this year’s draft, Jackson has been injured and hasn’t stood out when he was on the field. He’s quite clearly been behind Muamba and Sheppard thus far, so a healthy McNary and Freeman would put him as the sixth inside linebacker at best. He did finally get some snaps against New Orleans, and didn’t make any glaring errors, but would need a huge performance against Cincinnati to make the coaches think twice about him.
Dewey McDonald: The undrafted free agent safety has played well in the preseason, and has a +3.0 grade from Pro Football Focus, but that has mostly come against third-team offenses. With Sergio Brown, Mike Adams and Colt Anderson all getting time ahead of him, McDonald likely needs a strong performance in both special teams and defense to force the coaches to keep five safeties. Beating out Anderson outright may still be a possibility as well.
Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Burley: This has been one of the best battles to watch all preseason. Purifoy has flashed at different times throughout the preseason, while Burley has been pretty consistently good. Burley seems to have the edge right now, based solely on preseason play, but if Purifoy has a strong game to round out the month, his upside could be too enticing to allow waivers. Don’t be surprised if the Colts find a way to keep both either.
Josh Walker: Ben Gundy has raved about Walker in his offensive line reviews, calling him this year’s sleeper pick on the line. But when I look at the numbers, the only way that Walker makes the 53-man roster is if the Colts keep 10 linemen, or somebody goes to IR. Check out the depth chart as it stands now.
T: Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus
G: Hugh Thornton, Jack Mewhort
C: Khaled Holmes
Depth: Jonotthan Harrison, Joe Reitz, Xavier Nixon, Lance Louis
I’d say that Walker has been a step behind each of the above, although Nixon has been hurt. The Colts absolutely could keep 10 linemen, especially with the recent, lingering injuries to Holmes, Mewhort, Thornton, Harrison and Nixon. Louis and Reitz have significant injury history as well. In fact, I argued for Walker in my latest 53-man prediction, but if he struggles against Cincinnati, his chances will decrease significantly.
Mario Harvey: The former linebacker-turned-fullback hasn’t set the world on fire as a blocker. He’s gotten better throughout the preseason, but is he really the answer at fullback? The Colts may be better off having a tight end like Dwayne Allen fill that role when necessary. If Harvey continues his upward progression against the Bengals, great, but if not, the Colts don’t need to be compelled to keep him just for the sake of having a fullback.
Zurlon Tipton: Tipton had his first really solid game against the Saints last week, and needs to follow it up with a similar performance against the Bengals. Even if he doesn’t make the final roster, he can make a compelling case for the practice squad. Tipton’s Elusive Rating is tops on the team, and his nine missed tackles forced is tied for third in the entire league.