Minicamps are over and coaches are heading out on vacation. For most teams, though, the issue of roster depth is an ongoing battle.
Some teams already recognize a deficiency at certain positions and are still searching the waiver wire and getting some minor trades done to plug holes in the roster. Roster depth can become an issue if players get injured or get in trouble and we all know both things are possible in this league.
The question of which teams have the deepest rosters at this point in the year is an important one and I look at certain criteria to answer the question.
In my opinion there are 13 categories that have to get a positive answer for a team to qualify as having solid roster depth. The first is the backup quarterback. A capable backup QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch qualifies as a good backup.
There's a reason the Falcons traded for QB T.J. Yates this week. In 2011 Yates came off the bench and went 4-4 for the Texans, including a playoff win. Atlanta is still trying to get a passing grade for this first question of my roster depth analysis and Yates could be the answer.
After looking at all 32 teams, I felt 16 of the 32 teams had a decent enough answer at the backup QB question to move on to the other 11 categories. Keep in mind that rarely does any team have a great answer to all of these questions but after the QB here are the rest of the questions to be answered. Be careful not to just fill in names but ask yourself just how good the player is for each category.
1. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?
2. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?
3. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?
4. Is there a good second tight end on the roster?
5. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down?
6. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?
7. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?
8. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?
9. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages?
10. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses?
11. Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?
12. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?
We all know that football is a game of attrition and roster depth is the only real way to the playoffs and beyond. Last season, by the time the Seahawks got to the Super Bowl they had 11 players on injured reserve, PUP, NFI or suspended. Their starting offensive tackles, Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, missed 15 starts between them because of injury and there were another 20 starts missed by other players during the season.
So, as I combed through all the rosters looking for the teams with the best depth, which doesn't necessarily mean they are the best teams on paper if all the teams stay healthy (but we all know that is unlikely) I arrived at the top two teams and five honorable mention teams.
The honorable mention teams are the Redskins, Buccaneers, Dolphins and a tossup between the Eagles and 49ers. I like Kirk Cousins (Washington), Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay) Matt Moore (Miami) and Mark Sanchez (Philadelphia) and not so sure about Blaine Gabbert, but at least he has 28 starts and the rest of the 49ers' depth is pretty good. As for Washington, Tampa Bay, Miami and Philly, they don't satisfy all the categories but they did better than most teams hitting on at least nine of the 13.
The top two teams when it comes to depth are the Bengals and Seahawks almost in a dead heat. Cincinnati has Jason Campbell at QB, Marshall Newhouse or Will Svitek at OT, Mike Pollak inside at G-C, Jeremy Hill at RB, Tyler Eifert at TE, Mohamed Sanu at WR, Margus Hunt on the pass rush, Devon Still at DT, Darqueze Dennard as the third CB, Adam Jones as the fourth CB, Taylor Mays as the third safety, and Brandon Tate the returner.
The Seahawks have Tarvaris Jackson at QB, Alvin Bailey at OT, Steve Shilling at inside linebacker, Robert Turbin or Christine Michael at RB, Luke Willson or Anthony McCoy at TE, Kevin Williams at DT, Bruce Irvin as the pass rusher, Jeremy Lane as the third CB, and Percy Harvin the returner. Tarvaris Jackson has a 33-23 record as a starting QB.
Finally, what stands out about all these teams with good roster depth is they really haven't had to pay their starting quarterbacks big money yet but of course the 49ers are entering their first season with that issue now starting to emerge.