Woody will be missed!
In today's creative NFL, coaches are always looking for players with versatility in terms of skill sets. That gives teams flexibility in their schemes, and it is also an advantage with roster limitations if a player can fill more than one role. Let's look at 10 players in the AFC that fit this category -- not all of these guys are household names.
1. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
He is the most dominating defensive player in the NFL. His combination of skills and relentless effort make him almost impossible to stop. He lines up at defensive end in Houston's base 3-4 scheme, but when the Texans move to their 4-3 front in passing situations, he slides down inside. He is so tough to block one-on-one that his coaches move him all over the line to get favorable matchups. Even though he rarely does it, don't be surprised if Watt lines up at outside linebacker to rush off the edge. He could even drop into coverage occasionally in a zone blitz situation.
2. Jacoby Jones, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Jones has made his mark in the NFL as an explosive return specialist, as evidenced by his three combined scores off kickoff and punt returns in 2012. In 2013, his coaching staff expects him to take Anquan Boldin's place as the No. 2 receiver opposite Torrey Smith, and Jones' speed and big-play ability give him a chance to be productive in multiple situations. The Ravens will devise some special "packages" for him, which could include reverses and screens. The more touches he gets the better.
3. Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
His stats are not gaudy, but Edelman's numerous roles make him valuable to this team, and Bill Belichick really respects players who can contribute in a lot of ways. He was a college QB so he is even something of a threat to throw when he lines up in the backfield as a runner. Primarily though, he will take snaps at wide receiver -- either wide or in the slot -- and he has even played some on defense at the corner position. If that isn't enough, he can also give you stability in the kicking game as a kickoff and punt returner. He is not dazzling in any of these areas, but he is dependable and not mistake prone.
4. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens
He has surprising athletic ability and movement for a big man. He can line up at defensive end in their base 3-4 scheme or play on the nose. He can play DT in their 4-3 look and will even occasionally line up on the edge in 43 pass-rush situations. When the Ravens go to their zone blitz, he can drop into coverage, even at 340 pounds. Even though it is somewhat rare, he also can line up as a blocking fullback in goal-line situations. That role could actually increase with FB Vonta Leach no longer on the roster.
5. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills
Spiller is now the "bell cow" of this offense, and with a very creative new coaching staff, he will have a lot of roles to fill. The previous coaching staff was careful to not overwork him, so they limited his carries and reduced his role in the return game, but this staff will give him as much as he can handle. He can work out of the backfield, he can line up in the slot or wide as a receiver and, as a return man, he can create electrifying results.
6. Trindon Holliday, WR, Denver Broncos
He was a midseason 2012 pickup for the Broncos and his impact in the kicking game was spectacular. He scored four times on returns and is a threat for a big play every time he touches the ball. However, he did have a tendency to fumble, so better ball security will be important. Although he is really small, his speed gives him a chance to get more looks as a vertical receiver, especially when the Broncos go four wide. Peyton Manning may try to get him some touches on reverses, screens and vertical routes in 2013.
7. Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers
Nobody in the NFL appreciates a variety of skills in a player more than New England, and Woodhead brings that versatility with him from the Pats to the Chargers. His primary role in San Diego will likely be on third down as an outlet receiver and pass protector, but he will also get his share of carries as a runner. Traditionally, a lot of his touches have been in short-yardage situations, which is unusual for a little guy. The Chargers staff will put together a package of plays for Woodhead to touch the ball in various schemes.
8. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Hilton has become the vertical speed receiver that the Colts offense has needed. With a lot of spread and two-tight-end sets, he gets mostly one-on-one matchups. Andrew Luck really seems to trust him. Hilton is great in space and after the catch, which could lead to more reverses and screens, and he continues to be an effective punt returner, averaging 11.5 yards per return. This is a very creative coaching staff, and they will find a number of ways to get him the ball.
9. Marcel Reece, FB, Oakland Raiders
He has a lot of different jobs on this offense, but Reece's main role is as lead blocker out of his fullback position in Oakland's run-oriented offense. He doesn't get a lot of touches, carrying the ball when Darren McFadden is healthy, but he is certainly capable and may get more goal-line and short-yardage carries. He is really a good outlet receiver, but he is also a real weapon in the passing game. He can either line up wide or release out of the backfield, and his ability to run vertical routes makes him the most unique fullback in the NFL.
10. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
He is not a household name, but Sanu has a chance to contribute to this improved offense in a lot of ways. He is coming off a foot injury that curtailed his production a year ago, but he is now healthy and should be the No. 2 wide receiver to complement A.J. Green. We figure to see more two-tight-end sets in Cincy, which should get him more single coverage situations. The coaches liked his skill set enough to let him throw a touchdown pass a year ago, and he even ran the ball a few times out of the backfield.
Two rookies to keep an eye on
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard will start the season as a backup to veteran starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but his skill set is totally different. He will get some carries as a runner, but his biggest value may be as a receiver, especially on screen passes. And by the way, he is a solid pass-blocker, which is a skill that will get him on the field quickly as a rookie.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce is a talented rookie who will have a lot of roles in this TE-friendly, Andy Reid offense. He will play in-line, and he will motion and flex outside. That flexibility will fit very well in the pistol packages the Chiefs will install, which require alignment versatility.