NFL Veterans Whose Starting Jobs Could Be Threatened by 2014 Draft Picks

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IApril 19, 2014

NFL Veterans Whose Starting Jobs Could Be Threatened by 2014 Draft Picks

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    Could veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers be out of a starting job with the Kansas City Chiefs this season?
    Could veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers be out of a starting job with the Kansas City Chiefs this season?Ed Zurga

    We are less than three weeks away from the start of three days, seven rounds and 256 player selections.

    Since we don’t have a lot of time, here’s a quick look at seven veterans in the NFL who could be in danger of losing their starting jobs this fall to players not even on a league roster as of yet.

    In a game were youth is constantly served, these veterans could feel the pressure from an incoming rookie this summer during training camp.

    Before the protests come out, keep in mind that the title says “could be threatened.” No one is getting cut or benched. We are speculating that teams could attempt to upgrade these positions via a little youth. These players’ performances in 2013 are the main criteria for making this list.

    Also keep in mind that we are basically focusing on players who have been an established starter, not performers who were recently projected to be regulars due to a departure this offseason.

CB Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears

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    Associated Press

    You can’t spell successor without a little success.

    With the Chicago Bears' recent decision to re-sign veteran cornerback Charles Tillman to a one-year contract this offseason, is there any guarantee that he will be in the starting lineup this fall?

    As suggested by Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times, the Bears need to do even more when it comes to fixing last year’s defensive unit that ranked 30th in the league in total yards allowed and dead last in the NFL when it came to stopping the run.

    Tillman has been one of the franchise’s best players in recent seasons. In 11 seasons with the franchise, he has totaled 47 takeaways (36 interceptions), forced 40 fumbles and been named to two Pro Bowls. He missed half of 2013 due to an assortment of injuries and the Bears were a lesser defensive unit without him.

    As he prepares for his 12th NFL season, would the team be better suited if he took a lesser role in terms of a starter? That doesn’t mean he’s still not on the field for a significant amount of time. It’s worth keeping an eye on as general manager Phil Emery looks to upgrade this side of the football.

LOLB Ashlee Palmer, Detroit Lions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Off their latest disappointing season, there has been a lot of chatter about the Detroit Lions moving up in May’s draft to grab a wide receiver…really.

    That would be a certain wideout from Clemson. “For Sammy Watkins, which seems to be the biggest rumor mill going out there, I think that’d be a huge, huge move to have to go up and get him because you’re really starting at No. 2 with St. Louis (Rams),” said NFL Network NFL draft analyst Charles Davis via John Katzenstein of the Detroit News.

    The Lions have the 10th pick in next month’s draft and eight selections overall. And it’s really the defense that could use the most help. So if you are this team and determined to make a splash early, why not move up a few spots and take a crack at University of Buffalo standout Khalil Mack, one of the hottest names out there in terms of the linebacker position.

    New head coach Jim Caldwell and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin certainly wouldn’t mind having a playmaker at the position. Ashlee Palmer started a career-high 10 games at left outside linebacker in 2013 and didn’t make much of an impact, totaling just 33 tackles. And Pro Football Focus tell us that Palmer had his issues in terms of pass coverage.

CB Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This past January, the Kansas City Chiefs blew a 38-10 third-quarter lead in a 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.

    Cornerback Brandon Flowers would go down in that game, aiding the Colts’ cause. But was the loss that day as crucial as some may think?

    The six-year pro and former second-round pick of the Chiefs is not coming off a sensational 2013 season. Flower totaled 68 tackles but managed only one interception and knocked down just eight passes this past season. Pro Football Focus ranked him near the bottom of the league in terms of coverage.

    After a great start last season, the Chiefs wound up ranked 21st in total defense, including 16th against the run. The team has the 23rd overall pick in this year’s draft and don’t have a second-round selection. With the likes of Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers in the AFC West, shoring up the secondary is a must.

    Flowers could be seeing his own press coverage when it comes to holding onto his starting job.

QB Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It just hasn’t worked out the way the Minnesota Vikings had hoped it would.

    With the 12th pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the team selected Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. In three seasons, he has played in 36 games (35 starts) and thrown 38 touchdown passes compared to 34 interceptions.

    To his credit, Ponder has seen his completion percentage rise each season he has been in the league. While the athletic signal-caller has run for six career scores, he has also been sacked 89 times and fumbled 20 times, losing 11 of those miscues.

    It’s a new start in the Twin Cities with head coach Mike Zimmer, who has already put his stamp on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings have also hired Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. The veteran coach has a terrific track record with quarterbacks. Veteran signal-caller Matt Cassel was re-signed this offseason and comes off a solid 2013 campaign, throwing for 11 scores (nine interceptions) when called upon.

    Minnesota also has the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft, as well as eight overall selections. And it would surprise no one if the team opted to address the quarterback spot with that first-round pick.

LT Will Beatty, New York Giants

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The 2013 season was far from a thing of beauty for New York Giants’ left tackle Will Beatty.

    Now we will see if the five-year veteran’s regular job is in peril.

    In a year in which Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning threw a league-high 27 interceptions while being sacked a career-high 39 times, Beatty’s play left a lot to be desired.

    While the former second-round pick from the University of Connecticut graded out (via Pro Football Focus) quite well in terms of run blocking, protecting Manning was a major issue. Beatty allowed 13 of those aforementioned sacks, as well as 39 quarterback hurries. And to add an injury to insult, the massive tackle broke his leg in December’s regular-season finale.

    The Giants have been extremely busy during free agency with most of that emphasis on the secondary. They also added tackle Charles Brown, formerly of the New Orleans Saints.

    Soon we will see if it’s a bit too late for Beatty to pencil himself into the starting lineup this fall, at least when it comes to the left tackle spot.

CB Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Time in the starting lineup could be running out for one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ veterans in the secondary.

    Mike Tomlin’s team has now posted back-to-back 8-8 campaigns. The modern version of the “Steel Curtain” defense has begun showing a little rust.

    It was a rough 2013 for 11-year veteran cornerback Ike Taylor, who ranked near the bottom of Pro Football Focus’ rankings at his position, especially when it came to pass coverage.

    This past season, Taylor totaled 63 tackles and finished second on the team with a dozen passes defensed. But he failed to record at least one interception for the first time since his rookie campaign of 2003.

    Granted, the Steelers’ once-vaunted pass rush isn’t what is used to be either. The team has totaled fewer than 40 sacks each of the last three seasons and over that time Dick LeBeau’s defenders have picked off jut 31 passes, including three by Taylor.

    With nine selections in May’s draft, Pittsburgh could look early and perhaps often for Taylor’s successor.

SS Brandon Meriweather, Washington Redskins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Once upon a time, Brandon Meriweather was a Pro Bowl safety for the New England Patriots.

    That seems like it was in a galaxy far, far away.

    Known more these days for vicious hits than his playmaking ability, the former first-round pick in 2007 could face a challenge from a rookie this summer in terms of keeping his starting job.

    While he played somewhat better during the second half of 2013 (after missing nearly all of 2012), the Redskins are looking for answers on a unit that allowed 29 touchdown passes this past season. For his part, Meriweather totaled 69 tackles and a sack in 13 games. However, he totaled just two interceptions and three passes defensed. Pro Football Focus tells us he missed 16 tackles in those contests.

    Last April, the Redskins added a lot of youth to their secondary. They may opt to address that area early once again, although the team does not have a first-round pick next month.

    Some statistical support comes via Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and