Mike Davis, Ziggy Ansah, Devonta Freeman: Who will replace the NFL's injured stars?
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By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 28/09/20 5:56am
Head coaches and general managers were forced to cast their eyes upon free agent lists, depth charts and practice squad options this week after injuries ravaged a bizarre NFL Sunday.
On a weekend that staged the thrilling match-ups that helped you forget fans were not present, a striking number of the league's top players saw their campaigns come to an abrupt halt.
We take a look at those next in line as teams deal with their high-profile absences heading into Week Three...
Nick Bosa - San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers stake a strong claim for being worst off after seeing Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa suffer a season-ending ACL tear in the 31-13 win over the New York Jets - arguably the best opponent a banged up team could wish to face, in truth. Bosa has become a staple of Robert Saleh's defense and was instrumental on the road to Super Bowl LIV with 47 tackles, nine sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
It did not stop there for the reigning NFC champions, with defensive tackle Solomon Thomas also out for the season after tearing his ACL in the same game. The 2017 No 3 overall pick, whose fifth year option was declined by the 49ers in May, managed just two sacks in 2019, one in 2018 and three in his rookie year.
In addition, the team learned this week that the back injury that ruled defensive end Dee Ford out against the Jets is more serious than first anticipated. Ford had 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games last season. Cornerback Richard Sherman is, meanwhile, still on injured reserve as he nurses a leg problem.
As a result the 49ers went out and signed veteran free agent Ezekiel Ansah on a one-year deal after he departed from the Seattle Seahawks at the end of 2019. Dion Jordan, who had two sacks in seven games for the Raiders in 2019, was also promoted from the practice squad to the active roster.
Ansah was selected by the Detroit Lions at No 5 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft and has 50.5 sacks in 91 games. He will play across from last year's team-leader in sacks Arik Armstead, while first-round defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw will be relied upon to make an immediate impact.
Saquon Barkley - New York Giants
The Giants' plans on offense were dealt a major blow on Sunday when star running back Saquon Barkley went down with a season-ending ACL tear in the loss to the Chicago Bears. Barkley had been limited by injuries in 2019 before beginning the year behind an offensive line strengthened and re-shaped by Dave Gettleman in view of unleashing the former No 2 pick.
The team have since signed former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman as his replacement, and while the 28-year-old does not run as well as he did in previous seasons, he is arguably as healthy as he has been in three years and remains adept in pass protection. He will be accompanied by the multi-purpose ability of the experienced and underrated Dion Lewis, along with fourth-year back Wayne Gallman.
Big Blue will also be without wide receiver Sterling Shepard for at least three games due to a turf toe injury, leaving veteran Golden Tate, exciting second-year wideout Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram to shoulder the workload as targets in the open field. Damion Ratley and CJ Board will compete for reps, while the Giants may also consider Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor and Derrick Dillon on the practice squad.
Christian McCaffrey - Carolina Panthers
Mike Davis is the next in line for the Panthers as they look to fill the void left, temporarily, by running back Christian McCaffrey, who will miss at least three games after being placed on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain sustained in the defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As integral as McCaffrey is to the Panthers, there is really no need to rush him back into a team settling down under a new head coach in Matt Rhule. Three games may easily become five or six.
Davis has started 10 games in his career since being drafted by the 49ers in the fifth round in 2015. His best season came in 2018 with the Seahawks when he rushed for 514 yards and four touchdowns off 112 carries, as well as making 34 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown. He had eight catches for 74 yards in Sunday's loss.
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel was also identified by Rhule in the summer as an option out of the backfield. He had four carries for 26 yards at the weekend.
Drew Lock - Denver Broncos
Much of the excitement regarding the Broncos this season had centered around their explosive new offense, with John Elway providing second-year quarterback Drew Lock with a host of new weapons during the offseason.
Hopes of those on-field relationships materialising were dashed against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Lock suffered a severe rotator cuff strain that is expected to sideline him for up to five weeks.
Jeff Driskel, a sixth-round pick for the 49ers in 2016, came into the game in place of Lock and finished 18 of 34 passing for 256 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Driskel started three games in the absence of the injured Matthew Stafford in 2019, having thrown for 1,003 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in nine games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018.
The Broncos acted further on Lock's injury this week by signing Blake Bortles on a one-year deal. Bortles attempted two passes in three games as back-up for the Los Angeles Rams last year after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars that March.
Courtland Sutton - Denver Broncos
Besides losing their starting quarterback against Pittsburgh, the Broncos also saw lead receiver Courtland Sutton go down with a season-ending ACL tear. Sutton made 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns to earn a place at the Pro Bowl in 2019.
Injuries to both Lock and Sutton pile on the misery for a team that have also been missing the likes of linebacker Von Miller, cornerback AJ Bouye and running back Phillip Lindsay.
Tim Patrick represents the most experienced receiver available, however it is likely to be first-round rookie Jerry Jeudy who takes on increased reps. Second-round wideout KJ Hamler is another option capable of stretching the field, while tight end Noah Fant has also become a trusted target.
That being said, change at quarterback could also mean experienced running back Melvin Gordon playing a bigger role as a means of easing the pressure on Driskel or Bortles.
Jimmy Garoppolo - San Francisco 49ers
The injury woes continued for the 49ers as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo picked up a high ankle sprain against the Jets to plunge his availability against the Giants on Sunday into doubt.
Garoppolo was replaced by Nick Mullens, who threw eight completions for 71 yards and an interception. Mullens was acquired by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and made just eight starts, all of which came in 2018 as he went 176 of 274 passing for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions after Garoppolo tore his ACL.
"Nick is ready to go," said coach Shanahan during the week. "Nick has got a lot of playing time with us, and 2018 prepared him for moments like this. He always does a good job in practice, and [we're] excited to see him get his opportunity."
Raheem Mostert - San Francisco 49ers
Running back Raheem Mostert is also set to be inactive against the Giants after sustaining an MCL sprain against the Jets.
Having been cut by six teams since going undrafted in 2015, Mostert enjoyed a breakout year in 2019 with a team-high 772 rushing yards for eight touchdowns from 137 carries, before recording 220 yards for four touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.
Jerrick McKinnon, who had three carries for 77 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, will likely lead the 49ers in the backfield with support from Jeff Wilson. Undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty is another option on the practice squad.
The team have added problems in the open field, with receiver Tevin Coleman expected to miss multiple weeks after spraining his knee in the same game. His exit combined with the absence of tight end George Kittle (knee) and wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot) in leaving the 49ers worryingly short of proven targets.
Among the 49ers' options are recent addition Mohamed Sanu, rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne and tight end Jordan Reed, with Kittle and Samuel expected back.
Tyrod Taylor - Los Angeles Chargers
The starting quarterback job looks as though it will belong to rookie Justin Herbert again in Week Three after he was handed a surprise debut against the Kansas City Chiefs, with Tyrod Taylor a late scratch.
Taylor's return date is uncertain after a Chargers doctor punctured his lung while administering a pain-killing injection to aid the veteran's rib injury ahead of Sunday's game.
Herbert finished 22 of 33 passing for 311 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a game won by Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker's field goal in overtime.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn insisted afterwards that Taylor was the starter when "100 per cent fit", although you imagine another standout performance from Herbert would give him something to think about.
Brandon Scherff - Washington Football Team
Washington guard Brandon Scherff landed on injured reserve this week having sprained his right MCL in Sunday's defeat to the Arizona Cardinals.
He is likely to be missing for up to five weeks and will be replaced by Wes Schweitzer, who has 36 career starts since being selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round of the 2016 Draft.
Scherff earned a Pro Bowl selection last season but has now been placed on injured reserve for three straight years, missing 13 games over the last two seasons due to a torn pectoral muscle and elbow and shoulder issues.
The 28-year-old is a key factor to the development of quarterback Dwayne Haskins and will be eager to return in a contract year.
Anthony Barr - Minnesota Vikings
A dismal performance against the Indianapolis Colts was made worse for the Vikings by the loss of defensive captain Anthony Barr.
The linebacker tore a pectoral muscle in the game and has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after being placed on injured reserve.
Barr has registered 15 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 417 combined tackles since being selected with the ninth pick of the 2014 Draft.
Minnesota responded to Barr's injury by signing Todd Davis to a one-year deal, with the 28-year-old having been released by the Broncos after six seasons earlier this month. He has 472 combined career tackles and two sacks in 85 games.
Pro Bowl linebacker Eric Kendricks will assume even greater responsibility as a defensive leader. Late addition Ryan Connelly, Eric Wilson and rookie Troy Dye are the team's other options.
Other injury concerns
Despite picking up their first win of the season, it was a rough day for the Colts as they lost safety Malik Hooker (Achilles) for the rest of the season and wide receiver Parris Campbell (knee) indefinitely. Khari Willis and third-round rookie Julian Blackmon are now the likely starting duo at safety, while Zach Pascal and rookie Michael Pittman Jr will be expected to make up the work alongside Hilton at receiver.
Seattle must fare without veteran edge rusher Bruce Irvin (knee) and safety Marquise Blair (knee) for the rest of the year after both picked up ACL injuries against the New England Patriots. Alternatives for Irvin include Cody Barton, Mychal Kendricks and rookie Jordyn Brooks, with Ugo Amadi impressing Pete Carroll in the absence of Blair.
The Eagles' offensive line problems got even worse as they lost left guard Isaac Seumalo (knee), who has been placed on injured reserve after exiting the loss to the Rams. Matt Pryor is likely to fill in for Seumalo, who joins an injury list already including guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Andre Dillard.
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