Grading how all 32 NFL teams handled filling their respective key roster hole

Shaun Hill steps in for the injured Sam Bradford in St. Louis.
Shaun Hill steps in for the injured Sam Bradford in St. Louis. (Getty Images)

As we come to the close of the preseason, a lot of teams are facing the challenge of replacing key players, whether lost to free agency, injury, team decision or league suspension.


Some of those holes have been created during camp due to injury, some of the season-ending type.


So here's a look at how each team is filling a major need, with a grade for the replacement, or, in some cases, the replacements.


Arizona Cardinals


Frostee Rucker, DE -- With Darnell Dockett down for the season with a torn ACL, Rucker gets the first shot to take over as the starter. He is a solid pro who has been more of a 4-3 end, but has bulked up some to play a 3-4 end. Look for rookie Ed Stinson and others to push for time too.


Grade the replacement: C


Atlanta Falcons


Joplo Bartu or Prince Shembo, ILB -- When Sean Weatherspoon went down for the season with a torn Achilles during an OTA, it left a huge void on the defense. But Bartu played a lot as a rookie last season and flashed some nice athletic ability. He was inconsistent, but a year in the program will help that. I also think rookie Shembo will get time at the spot.


Grade the replacement: C+


Baltimore Ravens


Ricky Wagner, RT -- The Ravens weren't heartbroken when Michael Oher signed as a free agent with the Titans. He didn't play that well last season. Wagner didn't impress that much when he played last season, but he looks better this summer. I don't think you will see much of a difference here.


Grade the replacement: B


Buffalo Bills


Da'Norris Searcy, FS -- Searcy fills a big hole left by the departure of Jairus Byrd to the Saints. Searcy started next to Aaron Williams last season when Byrd was hurt, and was solid in his play. He doesn’t have the range of Byrd, but few do. Duke Williams is also in the mix.


Grade the replacement: C+


Carolina Panthers


Byron Bell, LT -- When Jordan Gross retired, it left a huge void on the left side of the Carolina line. That forced the team to move Bell from the right side to the left side. That's risky. He wasn't dominant on the right side, and he showed against New England that he has a ways to go on the left side.


Grade the replacement: C-


Chicago Bears


Jared Allen, DE -- The Bears cut loose Julius Peppers and then filled that hole with veteran Jared Allen. There won't be much of a drop in play. Allen can still play hard and still get after the quarterback in spurts.


Grade the replacement: B


Cincinnati Bengals


Wallace Gilberry, DE -- When Michael Johnson left as a free agent to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it meant Gilberry had to step up. He has been a solid situational pass rusher, but now must take over as the No. 1 right end. He isn't a pure talent, but he gets by with his effort and toughness. He could get 8-10 sacks.


Grade the replacement: B+



Cleveland Browns


Miles Austin, WR -- With Josh Gordon suspended for a year Austin will have to play a big role in the Cleveland offense. He had some success for the Cowboys, but he's starting to slow down. That's a concern. Replacing Gordon would be tough for any receiver.


Grade the replacement: D



Dallas Cowboys


Justin Durant started six games for the Cowboys last season.
Justin Durant started six games for the Cowboys last season. (Getty Images)

Justin Durant or Rolando McClain, MLB -- When Sean Lee went down with a season-ending injury, it left a huge hole in the Dallas defense. Durant got the first crack to fill it, but he's more of a "will" linebacker. McClain will get a look, but he hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2012. This is a huge challenge for the Cowboys.


Grade the replacement: D


Denver Broncos


Montee Ball, RB -- The Broncos let Knowshon Moreno leave in free agency because they thought it was time for Ball, in his second season, to take over. He was slowed in camp by an appendectomy, but he is back and should be a capable runner in their offense. He does have to hold onto the football. I think he will be good in the passing game as well.


Grade the replacement: A


Detroit Lions


Devin Taylor, Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp -- The Lions lost starting end Willie Young, their speed rusher, to the Bears in free agency. Replacing him won't be a problem. Taylor is a second-year player who has speed. Jones and Tapp are quality veterans. They will be more than OK.


Grade the replacement: A


Green Bay Packers


Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel and Josh Boyd, NT -- With B.J. Raji out for the season, the Packers will turn to these three to fill the void. Guion, who signed as a free agent, has missed a lot of camp with an injury, but he's back now. Pennel is a rookie who is a power nose. Raji didn't play well the past couple of seasons, but he was playing for a new contract. The motivation was there.


Grade the replacement: B-


Houston Texans


Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB -- The Texans traded away Matt Schaub to the Raiders, which was understandable, but then did a poor job of filling the hole. Fitzpatrick is the starter, but he is just serviceable. They need more from the position. I never liked how they handled filling the most important position on the field.


Grade the replacement: D-



Indianapolis Colts


Trent Richardson, RB -- Donald Brown, last season's top rusher, is gone to San Diego. Richardson, who takes over as the starter, did little last season after coming over in that trade from Cleveland. Richardson hasn't looked great in the preseason, but some of that is because of the poor line play.


Grade the replacement: C-


Jacksonville Jaguars


Toby Gerhart, RB -- The Jaguars couldn't work out a deal with Maurice Jones-Drew, so they signed Gerhart away from the Vikings to be their feature back. Gerhart backed up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but he will get 20 or so touches a game in Jacksonville. I think he will be productive, but not special.


Grade the replacement: C


Kansas City Chiefs


Ron Parker and Marcus Cooper, CB - With Brandon Flowers gone to San Diego, the Chiefs are looking at a variety of options at corner. Sean Smith started last season, but he could sit down and watch these two young players start. Parker has had a nice summer. Cooper started strong as a nickel corner last year, but then flopped. He is a big and physical. Flowers didn't play as well as expected last season, but this is a big step up for two young corners.


Grade the replacement: C-


Miami Dolphins


Samson Satele, C -- With Mike Pouncey out a while with a hip injury, it forced the Dolphins to sign Satele, who wasn't very good for the Colts last season. Satele was with Miami in 2007 and 2008 after being a second-round pick in 2007. He really struggled in Indianapolis, and he's not close to being in the Pouncey class. They will struggle inside.


Grade the replacement: F


Minnesota Vikings


Everson Griffen tallied 5.5. sacks for the Vikings as a reserve in 2013.
Everson Griffen tallied 5.5. sacks for the Vikings as a reserve in 2013. (Getty Images)

Everson Griffen, DE -- The Vikings chose to pay Griffen and not keep Jared Allen. Griffen has flashed pass-rush ability, but now he's on the all-important right side and is being asked to be the lead dog. That's a challenge. I think he will be fine.


Grade the replacement: B-


New England Patriots


Josh Kline, Dan Connolly or Marcus Cannon, G -- With the trade of Logan Mankins to the Bucs, the Patriots have a hole at left guard to fill. But they have some decent options, including Kline, Connolly and Cannon. Whoever starts there, will be a drop in play from Mankins for a while, mainly for experience reasons. But Mankins' play had tailed off some in recent years. They will be fine.


Grade the replacement: B


New Orleans Saints


Jonathan Goodwin, C -- The center spot is important on any line, but even more so with a short quarterback. The Saints appear to have settled on Goodwin as the starter to replace Brian De La Puente. Goodwin was the starter in New Orleans before leaving to sign as a free agent in San Francisco in 2011. He is smart and knows the offense, but his skills are eroding. Even so, he will be adequate.


Grade the replacement: B-



New York Giants


Johnathan Hankins, DT -- The Giants lost Linval Joseph to the Vikings in free agency. Joseph is a good player, but the Giants let him walk in large part because of Hankins. He is a second-year player from Ohio State. He has had a nice summer and could be ready for a big jump forward in his play.


Grade the replacement: B


New York Jets


Dimitri Patterson, CB -- The Jets let Antonio Cromartie leave in free agency, which left a huge void at corner. Patterson appears to have won the job opposite Dee Milliner (who is hurt), but Patterson went AWOL last weekend and was suspended for this week. Patterson is solid when he's on the field, but not close to being in Cromartie's class. The Jets blew this one.


Grade the replacement: F


Oakland Raiders


Matt Schaub, QB -- OK, the Raiders really didn't have anybody of note for him to replace. But Schaub struggled his last 18 months in Houston, and he hasn't looked good in the preseason. Is he really an upgrade over anybody?


Grade the replacement: D


Philadelphia Eagles


Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, WRs -- The Eagles released DeSean Jackson, which left a speed void in their passing game. They will try to replace him with Maclin, who is coming off a knee injury, and Matthews, a rookie. They can both replace his quick-screen action and the drags, but the deep ball is what will be missed. He cleared out a lot of space in the defense. The offensive design will help offset it some.


Grade the replacement: C+


Pittsburgh Steelers


Markus Wheaton, WR -- The Steelers let Emmanuel Sanders go in free agency, which was the second consecutive year they loss a receiver that way (Mike Wallace in 2013). That forces Wheaton, a second-year player, to step up his game. I think he can. He has the same skill set of Sanders, although he is might be faster. He had only six catches as a rookie last season, but that number will go to at least 50.


Grade the replacement: B+



San Diego Chargers


Sean Lissemore, Ryan Carrethers, NT -- Lissemore played last year, so it's not really a hole. But they did lose Cam Thomas to the Steelers, a talent who started for most of lat season only to be benched. They also lost Kwame Geathers for the season to injury this week. Carrethers, a rookie draft picks, is a big body who should fill the hole nicely.


Grade the replacement: B-


San Francisco 49ers


Rookie Chris Borland was a third-round pick from Wisconsin by the 49ers.
Rookie Chris Borland was a third-round pick from Wisconsin by the 49ers. (Getty Images)

Michael Wilhoite or Chris Borland, ILB -- When NaVarro Bowman suffered his devastating knee injury in the NFC title game, it meant the 49ers would be without their best defensive player for two months or so. Wilhoite and Borland are locked in a battle to take that spot, but both should play. Neither can come close to giving the 49ers what Bowman gave them. Who can?


Grade the replacement: C-


St. Louis Rams


Shaun Hill, QB -- This one is obviously a new one with the news that Sam Bradford is out for the season. There will be a drop in play from Bradford to Hill, but Hill is capable of being a solid, manage-the-game quarterback. He's a better option than trading away picks to go get another quarterback from outside the roster.


Grade the replacement: C+

Seattle Seahawks


Justin Britt, RT -- The Seahawks lost Breno Giacomini to the Jets in free agency, but thought Michael Bowie might be the replacement. He showed up to camp out of shape and then hurt a shoulder and was waived. That put Britt, the team's second-round pick, in as the starter. He has done some good things so far, but he is a rookie.


Grade the replacement: B


Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Josh McCown, QB -- They made the decision to sign the veteran as a free agent instead of sticking with Mike Glennon. I don't like it. I would have developed Glennon and then if he failed drafted one next year. McCown is just OK. Glennon flashed last season. Why not let him grow?


Grade the replacement: C-


Tennessee Titans


Bishop Sankey, RB -- I always believe you get younger at running back, and that's what Tennessee did. Chris Johnson is out, and Sankey is in. The second-round pick from Washington will be the primary runner by mid-season, but will likely split time with Shonn Greene early.


Grade the replacement: B-


Washington Redskins


Ryan Clark, FS -- They signed him away from the Steelers to upgrade the back end and sit down players like Bacarri Rambo that struggled last season. But Clark was a liability in coverage last season for the Steelers, and that could show up here in a big way.


Grade the replacement:  D

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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