The Most Intriguing Position Battles of the 2012 NFL Offseason
The classmates of the incoming NFL draftees probably think their peers are headed for easy street. What they might not realize is that job security in the NFL is every bit as rough as the real world.
NFL rookies and veterans alike have to interview for their jobs every day, except their interviews generally involve being trucked by bear-sized gents.
Position battles pop up across the league during every offseason; some with little to no fanfare, and others which make back page headlines on a daily basis. These fights for the starting or backup jobs lend some intrigue to an otherwise dull part of the NFL calendar year.
Here are some of 2012's best battles to watch.
Honorable Mention: Tim Tebow vs. Mark Sanchez
The New York Jets had one of the more dramatic late-season implosions in recent memory last season.
Naturally, they responded by signing the one man capable of igniting a potentially disastrous quarterback controversy: Tim Tebow.
Now technically, this won't really be a position battle, because the Jets have adamantly named Mark Sanchez the starter, and ostensibly it would take something supernatural for him to lose the job this summer (though we are talking about Tebow here).
Having said that, this could become an intense quarterback battle should Sanchez under-perform this season and the Tebowmaniacs start coming out of the New York woodwork.
We will have to wait and see.
Predicted Winner: Mark Sanchez
The San Francisco 49ers' Backfield
The San Francisco 49ers had a busy offseason, managing to keep all 11 defensive starters while signing several big-name free agents to boost their offense.
The 49ers made a somewhat head-scratching move in the draft, using their second round pick on Oregon running back LaMichael James.
The speedy James is an excellent player, but the 49ers suddenly have an incredibly overcrowded backfield that includes James, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon and the incumbent Frank Gore.
It should go without saying that the starting job belongs to Gore, but that leaves four running backs to battle for what essentially amounts to two spots.
Newly-signed Brandon Jacobs is coming off a stellar postseason run, and isn't likely to have many touches left in his tank, so the Niners will probably try to get what they can out of him now as a short-yardage insurance policy for the oft-injured Gore.
The team also believed LaMichael James to be worthy of a second round pick, leaving a strong possibility that he will edge out Kendall Hunter for the change-of-pace role.
Brandon Jacobs, Backup/Short Yardage, Pass Protection
LaMichael James, Change-of-Pace
Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker
The Tennessee Titans took Jake Locker with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, hoping that he would become their franchise quarterback.
They had the good fortune of signing Matt Hasselbeck, who had very productive season for them in 2011 while mentoring Locker.
Now however, they must decide whether they want to hand Locker the reins or let him sit behind Hasselbeck some more.
Locker is talented enough to win the job, but if Hasselbeck has anything left in the tank, it could be a struggle down to the end of the preseason.
A fierce battle is being set up for Tennessee's training camp this summer. The winner will have certainly earned his place under center.
Predicted Winner: Jake Locker
The San Francisco 49ers' Receiving Corps
The 49ers really went all out to bring pieces to their offense this year. Maybe they forgot how many starting spots there are?
In any case, Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham will be joining future Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss, incumbents Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn Jr, and rookie first-rounder A.J Jenkins in a very crowded wide receiver corps.
This of course doesn't even account for the fact that Vernon Davis will need touches as well.
Manningham was brought in to be the No. 1 or No. 2 wideout for Alex Smith, so the battle will be for the slot and whichever spot is not filled by Super Mario.
Though Crabtree has underachieved and been a noticeable diva early in his career, he is far too talented to be stuck on the bench and will likely be relegated to the slot where his skill set is best suited.
With Ginn returning kicks, the battle essentially comes down to the grizzled old man in Moss against the young gun in Jenkins. Will Moss simply end up being an unwilling tutor? Or will Jenkins patiently wait his turn on the bench?
Camp will tell all.
Mario Manningham, No. 1
Randy Moss, No. 2
Michael Crabtree, Slot
Courtney Upshaw vs. Paul Kruger
The nasty Achilles tendon injury to Terrell Suggs has left the Baltimore Ravens with a gaping hole in their normally formidable pass rush.
Luckily for them, they have two hungry young players waiting to battle for his spot in the lineup.
Four-year veteran Paul Kruger developed some nice pass-rush moves during the 2011 season, racking up 5.5 sacks in the process. His familiarity with the system will aid him in his bid for Suggs' job.
On the other hand, Courtney Upshaw enters camp as the Ravens' top pick in the 2012 draft, carrying the title of MVP of the BCS Championship game, where his Crimson Tide defense shut out LSU.
Predicted Winner: Courtney Upshaw
Chicago Bears' Wide Receiver Corps
Another team with more wideouts than it knows what to do with, the Bears have an interesting camp ahead of them.
Finally possessing some seriously legitimate weapons for Jay Cutler has to feel good, though hashing them out will be arduous.
It goes without saying that Brandon Marshall owns the number one spot, having been Cutler's top target during his best statistical seasons back in Denver.
Earl Bennett is likely to own the slot after signing a four-year, $18 million extension back in December.
With Johnny Knox's road to recovery looking cloudy, the remaining spot in the starting lineup will go to either Devin Hester, free agent Eric Weems, or rookie Alshon Jeffrey.
Jeffrey vs. Hester should be a fun battle in camp. Jeffrey was once considered a top-15 prospect before weight issues sank his draft stock, and Hester is a staple of the Bears offense who might become much more dangerous with Marshall drawing coverage.
Jeffrey's upside would be foolish to ignore however, and Hester's skill set is better utilized in specific situations. It also doesn't hurt that with Jeffrey standing 6'4'' and Marshall 6'5'' they create a matchup nightmare.
Predicted Winner: Alshon Jeffrey
John Skelton vs. Kevin Kolb
The Arizona Cardinals would appear to have a budding quarterback controversy on the surface. After all, pricey trade acquisition Kevin Kolb was a severe disappointment in 2011 while John Skelton pulled out some surprising late-season wins.
Though Skelton played well down the stretch, Kolb's contract is expensive, and his first season was marred by injuries and the NFL lockout.
Skelton has a case to state, but Kolb deserves a full healthy season with the much-improved Arizona roster and a training camp.
The job should be his to lose, even if they haven't said it yet.
Predicted Winner: Kevin Kolb
Doug Martin vs. LeGarrette Blount
This running back controversy is shaping up to be a difficult one, considering the underdog is the mercurial LeGarrette Blount.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ignited this battle by trading back into round one of the 2012 draft to take Doug Martin from Boise State.
Blount was sensational as an undrafted rookie, racking up over 1,000 yards in half of a season. He has made a name for himself by bulldozing his way through defenses.
The only problems are: he isn't great in pass protection, he has a bit of a fumbling problem and Martin has drawn comparisons to Ray Rice. Rookie head coach Greg Schiano was Rice's college coach, and is a major preacher of ball security and pass protection.
Blount is going to try his best, but the deck looks stacked for him to become the bruising backup in Tampa Bay.
Predicted Winner: Doug Martin
Miami Dolphins' Quarterbacks
When your fans start holding picket line protests outside the team facility, you know it is time for a change.
The Miami Dolphins have three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, with no clear-cut winner in sight.
The incumbent Matt Moore has proven to be a solid player and great backup material, but we have seen his ceiling, and it falls short of playoff caliber.
David Garrard was playoff caliber at his peak, but who knows what the Dolphins are going to get from the former Jaguars quarterback after his year off from football?
Then there is Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The "other quarterback" that the Dolphins drafted because they couldn't get Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, RG3 or Matt Flynn.
Tannehill has talent and tremendous upside, but is he ready to step into the starting spot on a rebuilding NFL team? With limited college experience as a quarterback, he is still quite raw.
Somebody has to emerge with the job from this mess, and though Tannehill is clearly the most talented of the three, the Dolphins would be wise to keep him out for now.
Predicted Winner: Matt Moore
Seattle Seahawks' Quarterbacks
This battle was only kind of interesting at first. The newly signed Matt Flynn was coming in with his shiny new $19.5 million contract to duel underachieving incumbent Tavaris Jackson.
Until rookie Russell Wilson added a new wrinkle to the entire thing.
The former Wisconsin quarterback was selected in the third round with little fanfare, until his eye-popping rookie minicamp a few days ago led Pete Carroll to declare an open competition for the starting job.
This quarterback battle royale in Seattle should produce a few headlines this summer, though it is hard to imagine coveted free agent Flynn losing the job unless Wilson turns out to be the diamond in the rough for 2012.
Predicted Winner: Matt Flynn