50 Predictions for 2012 NFL Depth Charts
One thing the media loves to focus on during training camp is positional battles in the National Football League. It gives us writers something to focus on during the rather slow times.
Once camp actually does start and preseason games are played, these positional battles take over for teams around the league.
The 2012 season promises to be filled with these types of battles as a new draft class looks to make its mark around the league. April's NFL draft was friendly to teams with multiple picks in the mid rounds because it was extremely deep.
You can expect rookies to unseat some veterans as camp breaks in early September. Individuals like Matt Hasselbeck, Dunta Robinson and Mike Williams are more than likely going to lose their starting jobs.
This article is going to focus on 50 depth chart predictions heading into training camp around the NFL late next month.
Stephon Gilmore Starts the Season as the Buffalo Bills' No. 1 Corner
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Stephon Gilmore was one of the better defensive prospects heading into the 2012 NFL draft. He went up against elite competition in the SEC as a standout corner for South Carolina.
All the indicators are there for Gilmore to be going up against opposing teams' No.1 receivers when camp breaks in early September.
Don't fret, Bills' fans, Gilmore already has what it takes to man that position on the defensive side of the ball.
Kelechi Osemele Is Inserted in as the Baltimore Ravens' Starting Left Guard
Courtesy of the Washington Examiner
The Baltimore Ravens have multiple options here. They technically have second-year player Jah Reid and rookie Kelechi Osemele vying for the starting left guard position.
But that is just on the surface.
As I noted above, Baltimore has multiple options. Reid, a 2011 third-round pick, has all the physical ability to be a starting tackle in the National Football League. The Ravens are working on his technique and lateral movement this offseason while he competes with Osemele for the starting guard position.
Long-term, it seems that Reid fits better as a tackle.
Osemele, a second-round pick in April's draft, seems to translate better to the interior of the offensive line.
There is a scenario where Baltimore moves Michael Oher to the left side, implements Reid in as the starting right tackle and gives Osemele the starting left guard position.
This would leave Bryant McKinnie looking for another job.
Either way, it seems that Baltimore would be well-served giving Osemele the starting position here out of the gate.
Time will tell.
Titus Young Beats out Nate Burleson for the Detroit Lions' No. 2 Receiver Spot
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Apparently Titus Young is blowing up Detroit Lions camp this offseason. Reports indicate that the talented young receiver is looking unstoppable.
Of course that could be because he is going up against a poor Lions secondary in camp.
That being said, Young does seem to have all the ability to be a great complementary receiver opposite Calvin Johnson on the outside.
Young caught nearly 50 passes for over 600 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie in 2011.
While Nate Burleson promises to be a solid receiving threat in 2012, he could easily move to the slot without much of an issue. Young seems better suited to play on the outside.
Mark Ingram Wins the New Orleans Saints' Starting Running Back Job
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Okay, so this might be out of left field. Mark Ingram struggled with injuries his rookie season, playing in a total of 10 games and gaining less than 500 yards on the ground.
The talented, young running back also had a procedure done on his ailing knee earlier this offseason.
Why would I indicate that the 2011 first-round pick will win the New Orleans Saints' starting running back job? Well, the answer is pretty simple. When healthy, he is their most talented running back. Okay, that's not true either. Darren Sproles is their most talented running back.
Let's try this again.
Ingram is the Saints' most talented running back who has the build to carry the load on the ground. Sound good?
Surprisingly, New Orleans did extremely well on the ground as its myriad of different running backs gained over 2,100 yards throughout the 2011 season.
That being said, it is time for this first-round pick to step up and prove to the Bayou that he was well worth the risk.
Will it happen?
Ronnie Hillman Unseats Knowshon Moreno for Broncos' No. 2 Running Back Slot
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Knowshon Moreno has struggled a great deal since the Denver Broncos selected him in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft. He did flirt with 1,000 yards and score seven touchdowns as a rookie, but it has been downhill since.
Moreno has combined for less than 1,000 yards over the course of the last two seasons and failed to score a touchdown in 2011. Additionally, he is coming off an ACL tear that could limit his ability to contribute early on the 2012 season.
This all leads me to believe that 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman will surpass Moreno on the depth chart. In fact, there is an outside shot that Moreno doesn't even make the Broncos' 53-man roster out of camp.
Brock Osweiler Earns the Denver Broncos' No. 2 Quarterback Job
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The Denver Broncos are in a clear win-now situation after signing Peyton Manning in the offseason. They have added a ton of veterans in free agency to help the future Hall of Fame quarterback lead this franchise to a Super Bowl in the short term.
That being said, John Elway and Co. must look to the future when it comes to the quarterback position. After all, there is no telling if Manning will stay healthy or how long he will play.
Brock Osweiler is a project at this point in his career, but he has all the talent to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. Manning's pure presence on the Broncos is also going to help the Arizona State product out a great deal.
You are going to see Caleb Hanie compete for the No. 2 job behind Manning. As Chicago Bears fans can attest, Hanie leaves a lot to be desired on the football field.
There is no reason for Denver to hold Osweiler back from earning the backup job to Manning. Expect him to be the primary backup heading into the 2012 season.
Randy Moss Beats out Two Others for San Francisco 49ers' No. 2 Wide Receiver
Courtesy of CSN Bay Area
Damn, Randy Moss sure does look like he is in shape. I guess this is what a season off from the National Football League will do to a veteran receiver.
The future Hall of Fame wide receiver is drawing rave reviews from coaches and players alike during the offseason in Santa Clara with the San Francisco 49ers.
His primary competition for the No. 2 wide receiver job opposite Michael Crabtree is going to come in the form of recent free-agent signing Mario Manningham, who seems better suited to play in the slot.
You can fully expect Moss to earn the starting job and perform extremely well if he is motivated heading into the season.
Jeff Allen Unseats Ryan Lilja at Left Guard for the Kansas City Chiefs
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Ryan Lilja (pictured) will be riding the pine in Arrowhead come September, and the primary reason for this is the selection of Jeff Allen in the second round of April's draft.
The former Illinois offensive tackle was quickly jumping the draft boards prior to April's annual event in New York City. At the start of the draft process, Allen was considered a mid-round prospect, at best. That changed with excellent performances at the combine in Indianapolis as well as Illinois' pro day.
With Branden Albert and Eric Winston slotted in at the offensive tackle positions, Allen is going to move inside for the Kansas City Chiefs. He seems to have everything a team looks for in terms of balance, technique and strength.
In short, Allen is a plug and play guard right out of the gate.
Ryan Lilja had a disastrous 2011 season for Kansas City. He was pretty much inept in every possible category, including pass protection.
Kansas City has done everything in its power to rebuild its offensive line, which looks relatively strong outside of the left guard position.
Expect Allen to win this battle.
T.Y. Hilton Will Beat out Austin Collie for the Colts' No. 2 Wide Receiver Spot
Courtesy of SB Nation
T.Y. Hilton showed up on game tape as a receiver who can stretch the field and possesses above-average balance running on the outside. He isn't going to struggle catching the ball in coverage and has solid hands.
Additionally, Austin Collie seems better suited to play in the slot.
Andrew Luck has a nice amount of weapons in the passing game. Reggie Wayne is returning to the Indianapolis Colts after flirting with the open market. The Colts also went out and selected two tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, early in the 2012 NFL draft.
The young quarterback needs someone to stretch the field on the outside, and that is exactly what Hilton brings to the table as a rookie.
David DeCastro Will Be the Pittsburgh Steelers' Starting Right Guard
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Is there really any question about this?
Not only is David DeCastro going to start immediately, he is going to be a dominating force along the interior of the Pittsburgh Steelers' line.
Mike Adams Will Be the Pittsburgh Steelers' Starting Left Tackle
Courtesy of Steelers Gab
This is where it gets interesting. Do the Pittsburgh Steelers want two-fifths of their starting offensive line to be manned by rookies? Do they have any other choice?
In a perfect world, Pittsburgh would let Mike Adams sit for a season to gain some experience and work on that technique. As last season proved, the Steelers don't exist in a perfect world.
While Adams might struggle against speed-rushers early, he has the ability to be a really good offensive tackle.
Pittsburgh will put their five best offensive linemen on the field, and Adams is one.
Really, it is that simple.
Trevor Guyton Will Start at Defensive Tackle for the Minnesota Vikings
Courtesy of the Daily Norseman
This might come as a surprise to a lot of people. After all, the Minnesota Vikings do have Kevin Williams, Fred Evans and Letroy Guion all slotted ahead of Trevor Guyton right now.
That doesn't really mean too much at this point in the offseason.
Guyton was one of the better run-stuffing defensive tackles in the 2012 NFL draft. The fact that he fell to the late rounds makes absolutely no sense to me.
Look for the California product to make an immediate impact and start out of the gate. Once the Vikings' coaching staff gets a look at what he brings to the table, they really aren't going to have any other choice.
Stud in the making here.
Casey Matthews Will Be the Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Weak Side Linebacker
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Casey Matthews struggled a great deal as a rookie last season. At times, it seemed that the National Football League was just too big for him.
That happens a great deal, especially when you come from a college that doesn't concentrate a great deal on the defensive side of the ball.
Make no mistake about it, Matthews is going to be a fine player in the league. At least, he had an excuse for performing poorly last season.
The same cannot be said for Brian Rolle, who was absolutely atrocious for the most part. The former Ohio State standout just couldn't tackle anyone on a consistent basis and took himself out of the play far too often.
A starting linebacker group of Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Casey Matthews doesn't sound too shabby at this point for Philadelphia.
John Skelton Will Be the Arizona Cardinals' Day 1 Starting Quarterback
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The Arizona Cardinals might have given up a second-round pick and Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb, but this doesn't mean that the struggling quarterback is guaranteed to be their starter heading into the 2012 season.
Kolb lost six of his nine starts and struggled to adapt to Arizona's offense as the season progressed. He was nowhere near the accurate passer we saw with the Philadelphia Eagles and failed to live up to expectations in the desert.
While John Skelton didn't light the world on fire, he did go 5-2 as a starter down the stretch and started to get more comfortable as the season progressed.
Arizona is going to start the quarterback who gives it the best chance to win in the game. At this point it would have to be concluded that Skelton is that man.
Joseph Addai Will Win the New England Patriots' Starting Running Back Spot
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While Joseph Addai is a few seasons removed from being an impact, full-time running back in the NFL, he does provide pass-catching and leadership ability in a young New England Patriots backfield.
The veteran running back will act as a safety valve for Tom Brady in passing sets and does have the ability to gain that tough yardage between the hashes.
Some might say this is a long shot, and I fully understand that. Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley were early-round picks in 2011. They do promise to play important roles in the Patriots backfield as well.
It just seems that Addai fits the Patriots' scheme to a T and gives them the most balance starting out the game.
Kirk Cousins Will Be the Washington Redskins' Primary Backup Quarterback
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Why not? No other Washington Redskins quarterback outside of Robert Griffin III is going to see action during the regular season unless the rookie gets injured.
This just makes all the sense in the world. Kirk Cousins was one of the most polished quarterbacks from the 2012 NFL draft class, and he has a bright future ahead of himself.
Let's not kid ourselves. Would Cousins be that much worse of an option at backup than Rex Grossman? I don't think so.
After all, they really don't have that much to lose.
Miles Burris Will Be the Oakland Raiders' Starting Weak Side Linebacker
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Depending on how the Rolando McClain situation plays out, the Oakland Raiders could end up being relatively thin at the linebacker position.
McClain was sentenced to 180 days in jail for assault and gun charges, a conviction that he is currently appealing. Either way, the Raiders need to go into this situation fully prepared to play a good part of the 2012 season without their starting middle linebacker.
Aaron Curry performed extremely well for Oakland after coming over from the Seattle Seahawks during the middle part of last season. He can easily move over to the middle linebacker position, leaving the weak side open for a trio of youngsters.
My bet is on Miles Burris cracking the starting lineup. He already possesses strong physicality at the line of scrimmage and can go sideline-to-sideline. The former San Diego State star has what it takes to start in the NFL, and the Raiders fully understand that.
Lester Jean Will Be the Houston Texans' No. 2 Wide Receiver
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Full disclosure here. I hadn't even heard of Lester Jean prior to this offseason and don't fully know what he brings to the table right now.
That being said, the Houston Texans are in desperate need of a wide receiver to step up opposite Andre Johnson.
They released Jacoby Jones earlier this offseason, finally giving up on the enigmatic receiver. Kevin Walter doesn't seem to be more than a slot guy at this point either.
Houston did take DeVier Posey in April's draft. That being said, it is going to take some time for the former Ohio State standout to get acclimated to the National Football League.
By all accounts, Jean has been one of the most impressive players for the Texans this offseason. That is what I am banking this slide on.
Forgive the ignorance.
Brian Quick Is Going to Start for the St. Louis Rams
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Brian Quick was one of my favorite players in the entire 2012 NFL draft. He possesses the strength, speed and hands to be a true No. 1 receiver in the league.
I drew a lot of criticism for predicting Quick as a first-round talent. However, it appears that the St. Louis Rams were fully on board with this assessment as they made him the initial pick of the second round.
The Rams' major issue last season was a lack of consistency at the wide receiver position, and they made sure to address that deficiency this offseason.
At this point there is no reason to believe that Quick will not earn a starting wide receiver job for the Rams. After all, he is already their most talented player at that position.
Expect huge things from the Appalachian State alum as a rookie.
Alex Boone Will Be the San Francisco 49ers' Starting Right Guard
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The San Francisco 49ers don't appear to have many holes on their 53-man roster. They have less openings in the starting lineup.
The one major area of competition during training camp will be the starting right guard position. Alex Boone, Daniel Kilgore and rookie Joe Looney will all be vying for this spot. While the other two players are pretty impressive in their own right, Boone would be a starting tackle on over half the teams in the league.
This means that the youngster from Ohio State should have a relatively seamless transition from tackle to guard.
Expect him to win this job rather easily.
Danny Coale Will Win the Dallas Cowboys' Slot Receiver Job
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Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are entrenched in as the Dallas Cowboys' two starting receivers. That being said, Tony Romo and Co. rely a great deal on the slot receiver in their offense.
Danny Coale, a 2012 fifth-round pick from Virginia Tech, seems to fit that role to a T. He has a knack for making plays down the field, isn't hesitant to go up the middle and recognizes coverage schemes extremely well for such a young player.
Additionally, it doesn't hurt that his primary competition for the job comes in the form of Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris, two unimpressive options.
Chaz Schilens Will Be the New York Jets' No. 2 Wide Receiver
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If it weren't for consistent injury issues, Chaz Schilens would be a household name in the National Football League. He performed extremely well when on the field for the Oakland Raiders over the course of the last few seasons, catching 72 passes in just 19 career starts.
Second-round pick Stephen Hill has everything that a team looks for in a No. 1 receiver. That being said, a limited route tree at Georgia Tech will cause some major issues in regards to the talented receiver early in his career.
While Hill should make an impact as a rookie, the New York Jets just cannot count on him to be a starter right now.
If healthy, Schilens wins this job rather easily.
Mark Herzlich Will Start at Linebacker for the New York Giants
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We all know the heartwarming story as it relates to Mark Herzlich, a cancer survivor from Boston College. The talented linebacker would have been a first-round pick if it weren't for his health issues leading up to the 2011 NFL draft.
As with most cancer patients, it does take a great deal of time to return to full strength. In regards to Herzlich, this is only magnified due to the type of cancer that he had.
That being said, Herzlich appears to be at full health and ready to contribute in a big way heading into the 2012 season.
He is currently slated as the primary backup to Chase Blackburn at the middle linebacker position for the New York Giants. While Blackburn played well last season, he does leave a lot to be desired as an all-around linebacker.
Tom Coughlin and Co. are going to go with the individual who performs the best during training camp. At this point I wouldn't bet against Herzlich.
Blaine Gabbert Will Be the Jacksonville Jaguars' Day 1 Starting Quarterback
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Blaine Gabbert has to be the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback next season, right? After all, we are talking about a top-10 pick from the 2011 NFL draft.
That being said, Gabbert was beyond bad last season. He completed just over 50 percent of his passes, putting him in rarefied air with Tim Tebow. Moreover, Gabbert failed to reach 200 yards in all but three of his starts.
Talk about bad.
Jacksonville made the decision to sign Chad Henne this offseason to compete with Gabbert for the starting quarterback job. Well, Henne hasn't been much better in his career either. The veteran quarterback has thrown six more interceptions than touchdowns in 31 career starts.
Expect the Jaguars to go with the young quarterback in hopes of him turning it around in 2012. After all, most quarterbacks do struggle their rookie seasons.
Jake Locker Will Unseat Matt Hasselbeck as the Tennessee Titans' Starter
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At some point the Tennessee Titans are going to have to hand the reins over to Jake Locker. This is a team that is not going to compete for a conference championship with the roster as it is currently formed. The best they can hope for is a wild card spot in the AFC.
Why not put in a promising young quarterback to lead this young roster? Locker has already shown that he has the tools to be a damn good starter in the National Football League. In fact, he wouldn't be much of a drop-off from what Matt Hasselbeck provided last season.
I am pretty sure the Titans' front office fully understands this.
Justin Blackmon Will Fall on the Jacksonville Jaguars' Depth Chart
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On the exterior it would seem that Justin Blackmon is the Jacksonville Jaguars' best wide receiver, even before he has played a game.
That is just on the exterior.
Long before the Oklahoma State product was arrested on a DUI charge last week, there were tremendous questions about his ability to make an impact in the National Football League. Blackmon struggles getting off the line against press, doesn't possess the best hands and will struggle with route-running early in his career.
Jacksonville also signed Laurent Robinson away from the Dallas Cowboys during the offseason. The veteran receiver had the best season of his career in 2011, putting up nearly 900 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Later, the Jaguars signed Lee Evans. While he did struggle a great deal with the Baltimore Ravens last season, Evans has produced in the past. In fact, he is just three years removed from a 1,000-yard season with the Buffalo Bills.
You also cannot forget about Mike Thomas, who led Jacksonville with over 800 receiving yards in 2010 before struggling last season.
There is a strong possibility that Blackmon begins the season as Jacksonville's third or fourth wide receiver—not what they were looking for from a top-five pick.
The Detroit Lions' Starting Running Back Job Will Go to Mikel Leshoure
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Mikel Leshoure, who missed his entire rookie season for the Detroit Lions with a torn Achilles, appears to be back at full health right now. It really is like Detroit acquired an extra early-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft with his return.
Leshoure was dominating for Illinois in 2010, accumulating nearly 1,700 yards on the ground and scoring 17 touchdowns. As much of a loss as it was last season, it will be just as big of a gain for Detroit heading into 2012 with him in the fold.
Additionally, it is hard to imagine the Lions being able to rely on Jahvid Best to shoulder the load at running back. The electrifying back missed the final 10 games of the 2011 season due to a concussion and just doesn't seem to have the build to consistently take hits.
This leads me to believe that Leshoure will be the Lions' primary running back in 2012. Of course, Best will get a nice amount of carries considering his explosive ability on the outside.
Asante Samuel Will Replace Dunta Robinson in the Atlanta Falcons' Lineup
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It is still extremely surprising that the Atlanta Falcons were able to acquire the services of Asante Samuel from the Philadelphia Eagles for a seventh-round pick. The veteran cornerback has tallied a total of 19 interceptions over the course of the last three seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors twice during that span.
With Brent Grimes strongly in hold of the No. 1 cornerback position, Samuel will be challenging incumbent starter Dunta Robinson for the starting role opposite Grimes.
Robinson has not impressed in Atlanta since signing a six-year, $57 million contract prior to the 2010 season. He has recorded just three interceptions in two seasons while consistently struggling with man coverage on the outside.
It seems that Robinson is better suited to play in the slot for Atlanta. This leaves the door open for Samuel to win the starting job.
Mychal Kendricks Will Start for the Philadelphia Eagles out of the Gate
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I might be a little biased here because I had the pleasure to watch Mychal Kendricks play in my backyard at Cal, but he has everything that defensive coordinators look for in a linebacker. Kendricks can go sideline-to-sideline, rarely misses tackles, is extraordinary in coverage and has blazing speed.
In fact, he should have been a first-round pick.
These were also areas where the Philadelphia Eagles struggled a great deal last season, especially tackling. Expect defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to play the three best linebackers that he has on the roster, and Kendricks is one.
It really is that simple!
Doug Baldwin Will Start over Mike Williams for the Seattle Seahawks
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Doug Baldwin came out of nowhere last season as a rookie free agent for the Seattle Seahawks. He caught 51 passes and led the team in receiving yards with nearly 800. Moreover, Baldwin became a major deep threat on the outside.
That being said, Baldwin's emergence was more out of a necessity than anything else. Sidney Rice missed seven games due to various injuries, and Mike Williams failed to show the consistency that offenses need in a starting wide receiver.
At this point it does seem like Seattle's receiving corps is pretty strong with Baldwin, Rice and Williams as well as Golden Tate and Ben Obomanu.
It is going to be a dog fight to see who wins the starting jobs during training camp.
My money is on Rice and Baldwin starting with Williams playing in the slot.
Trevor Laws Will Start at Defensive Tackle for the St. Louis Rams
My regular readers fully understand that I am not huge on Michael Brockers making a major impact as a rookie in 2012. While he is going to be one hell of a player moving forward, the rookie defensive tackle needs more seasoning before he can be counted on consistently.
Trevor Laws might not jump out as a great free-agent signing, but he is extremely solid against the run. The former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle is a gap filler along the interior. This is going to help edge-rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn a great deal.
Expect Laws to start out of the gate while Brockers learns the nuances of the National Football League.
Bernard Scott Will Be the Cincinnati Bengals' Day 1 Starter at Running Back
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BenJarvus Green-Ellis just isn't a starting running back in the National Football League. On that note, it does appear that the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to be more of a rotational player with Bernard Scott.
Green-Ellis struggled a lot down the stretch last season for the New England Patriots, averaging 2.6 yards per rush over the course of the final five games.
While Scott didn't impress a great deal in the reserve role behind Cedric Benson last season, he seems to fit what the Bengals do on offense a lot better than Green-Ellis.
It is going to be more of a running back by committee situation in Cincinnati, but I expect Scott to get a bulk of the carries and start out of the gate.
Dont'a Hightower Will Start at Linebacker for the New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots did not go against the grain and trade up in the first round of April's draft for Dont'a Hightower to sit on the bench in lieu of Rob Ninkovich.
That just isn't going to happen.
Hightower fits the Patriots' hybrid defensive scheme to a T and will be able to contribute immediately. We are talking about a linebacker who played extremely well against stiff competition at Alabama in the SEC and was utilized in a pro-style defense.
Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw Will Be Starting for the Baltimore Ravens
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Sure, the loss of Terrell Suggs is going to hurt the Baltimore Ravens defense. No one player on their current roster is going to be able to fill the void.
Instead, they are going to have to rely on a combination of outside linebackers to produce on a consistent basis. Two of them, Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw, are high draft picks with something to prove.
Both are going to see the field a great deal in 2011. In fact, I am predicting that both are going to be starting when Baltimore opens up the season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Right now Paul Kruger is slated to start at right outside linebacker, but he just doesn't seem to have the explosiveness or ceiling that these two youngsters have.
In order to succeed running a 3-4 defensive scheme, a team needs consistent pass rush from the outside linebacker position. These two provide that a lot more than Kruger.
Brandon Taylor Will Start at Strong Safety for the San Diego Chargers
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This is where it gets extremely interesting. Are the San Diego Chargers going to go with a veteran performer in Atari Bigby at strong safety or are they going to go with the upside of Brandon Taylor?
We all know that San Diego has Super Bowl aspirations, so some may conclude that they are going to go with the veteran. That might be hard to argue against, but Taylor has the raw physical ability to be a dominating player in the box as rookie.
His skill set at the strong side seems to complement Eric Weddle much better than Bigby at this point.
At the very least, Taylor will get a lot of play with the first team in training camp and during the preseason.
Doug Martin Will Start at Running Back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers failed to get a consistent running game going throughout the 2011 season. A lot of that had to do with the fact that they abandoned the ground game early.
LeGarrette Blount, despite coming off a 1,000-yard season as a rookie, just didn't get the necessary touches to make a difference. In fact, he rushed the ball 15 times or less nine times in 2011. That just isn't going to get it done.
The new regime in Tampa Bay understands this, so they drafted Doug Martin in the first round of April's draft. The Boise State product was one of my draft crushes heading into the spring, and that hasn't changed.
Martin possesses the ability to be a three-down player. Moreover, he is solid in pass protection and adds another dimension in the passing game.
Both Blount and Martin are going to get their touches, but the rookie is a more complete back and should start immediately.
Bruce Carter Will Start at Linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys over Dan Connor
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The Dallas Cowboys struggled a great deal with Bradie James up the middle last season. The veteran linebacker regressed, which had a major impact on their ability to cover between the hashes.
James has since departed and will be replaced by one of two players.
Bruce Carter will be vying with recently-signed Dan Connor to man the right inside linebacker job next to the up-and-coming Sean Lee.
While Carter didn't see too much game action as a rookie in 2011, he has the talent to succeed in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense. What Carter brings is excellent pursuit ability sideline-to-sideline, which complements Lee's game a great deal.
Brandon Weeden Will Win the Cleveland Browns' Starting Quarterback Job
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Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert has indicated on more than one occasion that he expects rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to be the starting quarterback in 2012.
No matter how you feel about the selection of Weeden in the first round of April's draft, it is hard to question this notion.
Teams don't spend a first-round pick on a quarterback for him to sit a season or two—especially when that quarterback is closer to 30 than he is to 25.
While I do believe that Cleveland didn't give Colt McCoy an opportunity to succeed with weapons on the offensive side of the ball, I do think that they should pass the reins over to Weeden in 2012.
Matt Flynn Will Be the Opening Day Starter for the Seattle Seahawks
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While Tarvaris Jackson wasn't horrible for the Seattle Seahawks last season, it is readily apparent that he doesn't fit into their long-term plans. Jackson did complete over 60 percent of his passes and throw more touchdowns than interceptions.
That being said, a team doesn't spend tens of millions on a quarterback while drafting another in the third round if they are sold on the incumbent.
This is what Seattle did this offseason.
They brought in Matt Flynn on a three-year, $19.5 million contract, which is starter money. Seattle also drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.
Despite the fact that Pete Carroll has indicated there is going to be an open competition for the starting job, it is hard to imagine him not handing the reins over to Flynn.
Russell Wilson Will Be Matt Flynn's Primary Backup in Seattle
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If Tarvaris Jackson isn't going to be the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback, it makes little sense for them to keep him around as the primary backup to Matt Flynn.
You just cannot show that lack of confidence in a quarterback and expect him to come in on a whim and succeed if the starter goes down. The NFL doesn't work this way.
Additionally, Seattle has a pretty promising young quarterback in the form of Russell Wilson, whom I am extremely high on. The former Wisconsin starting signal-caller has everything that teams look for in terms of a starter in the NFL, despite his lack of size.
Wilson promises to be Seattle's quarterback of the future. Why not get him there sooner rather than later?
Josh Johnson Will Be Alex Smith's Primary Backup with the San Francisco 49ers
Courtesy of the San Francisco Examiner
This is more of a testament on the ability of Josh Johnson to succeed as a starting quarterback in the NFL than it is a knock on Colin Kaepernick.
Johnson seems to possess the arm strength and accuracy to be a damn good player. While he hasn't gotten much of a shot in the league, Johnson will definitely open up some eyes during training camp and in the preseason this year.
Moreover, the 49ers are built to win right now. This means that if Alex Smith does go down to an injury, they will want to have an experienced quarterback replace him.
Johnson is that guy.
Demario Davis Will Start over Bart Scott for the New York Jets
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If it weren't for that fact that $4.2 million of Bart Scott's 2012 salary was guaranteed, he wouldn't be on the New York Jets right now. The veteran linebacker has regressed a great deal over the course of the last couple seasons, finishing among his career lows in tackles and solo tackles.
On a more positive note, Demario Davis has the makings of an absolute stud at the linebacker position. The rookie from Arkansas State can absolutely fly to the ball and has a great knack for the play prior to the snap.
If the Jets knew what was good for them, they would start Davis immediately.
Joe Adams Will Start at Wide Receiver for the Carolina Panthers
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Cam Newton revitalized the career of Steve Smith last season, but he does need another target to throw to on the outside.
Brandon LaFell did show strides during his second season in the NFL, catching 36 passes for over 600 yards in 2011. That being said, he is inconsistent on route-running and doesn't possess the softest of hands.
Joe Adams can absolutely fly and does a tremendous job in space. Just imagine how he will perform in the Panthers offense with Newton throwing in his direction.
This could be one of the most surprising picks on the list, but it is something that might just happen.
Cassius Vaughn Will Start at Cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts
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This seems like a broken record, but the Indianapolis Colts are lacking both depth and talent at the cornerback position. They don't seem to have a true No. 1 cover guy or anyone who can step up into that role.
Moreover, the veteran players along this unit leave a lot to be desired.
This is one of the primary reasons why Indianapolis traded for Cassius Vaughn. The young cornerback played a limited role for the Denver Broncos but could turn out to be an electrifying performer for the Colts' secondary.
He possesses exceptional athleticism and big-play ability—two things that Indianapolis has been missing over the course of the last few seasons.
Michael Bush Will Be the Chicago Bears' Starting Running Back on Opening Day
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This isn't out of the realm of possibility.
The relationship between Forte and the Chicago Bears organization can be defined as contentious at this point. He wants to be paid like a Pro Bowl running back, and they are remaining firm that he isn't going to get that type of money.
If Forte does hold out into camp and the regular season, newly-signed Michael Bush will be the Bears' starting running back.
The former Oakland Raider might not possess the game-changing ability we have seen from Forte over the years, but he is a damn solid back.
Brandon Saine Will Be the Green Bay Packers' Opening Day Starting Running Back
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The Green Bay Packers have a number of inexperienced running backs vying for the starting position as we head into the 2012 season. All of these running backs possess good talent and bring something different to the table.
James Starks was huge for the Packers during their Super Bowl run in 2010, but he didn't take his game to the next level in 2011 Rather, it seems that Starks might not be much more than a committee-type back at this point.
The one player who is impressing Green Bay this offseason is second-year running back Brandon Saine from Ohio State.
Head coach Mike McCarthy recently stated that Saine has been the Packers' most consistent back in camp. This goes a long way to prove my notion that he will earn the starting job out of training camp.
Tony Bergstrom Will Start at Left Guard for the Oakland Raiders
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To say that Cooper Carlisle leaves a lot to be desired at left guard for the Oakland Raiders would be an understatement. This is a team that has done a great job building young talent along the offensive line. They now need to utilize that talent in 2012.
With Mike Brisiel slotted to start at right guard and Stefen Wisniewski ready to take over at center, the Raiders have a couple of nice building blocks along the interior of the line.
Tony Bergstrom started 39 games at Utah and was extremely solid in run blocking as well as pass protection. He seems to have the necessary technique and strength to start immediately.
If the rookie pans out, opponents will have an extremely hard time stopping the Raiders' run game between the hashes.
It just makes sense to throw him in there.
Emmanuel Acho Will Start at Weak Side Linebacker for the Cleveland Browns
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Starting weak side linebacker Scott Fujita is suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season. This is going to open up a spot for young Cleveland Browns' linebackers to make a name for themselves.
Speaking of names, Emmanuel Acho was a stud at Texas in college and provided the Browns with an absolute steal in the sixth round of April's draft.
Expect Cleveland to take a long look at the rookie during training camp. If all pans out, Acho should be starting come Week 1.
Philip Blake Will Start at Center for the Denver Broncos over J.D. Walton
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J.D. Walton was considered the worst starting center in the National Football League by Football Outsiders. This goes to show you exactly how bad he was for the Denver Broncos last season.
There is a reason why they drafted Philip Blake in April. The Baylor product was jumping up the draft boards leading up to the annual event and should be a plug and play center at this point.
As you can see in the embedded photo, Blake gets low at the point of contact. This is something that Walton struggled with a great deal last season. It is also something that is extremely important for an interior lineman to be able to do in the NFL.
Expect Blake to start from Day 1.
Ryan Tannehill Will Be the Miami Dolphins' Third-String Quarterback
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There is absolutely no reason for the Miami Dolphins to rush Ryan Tannehill. This is a quarterback who needs to gain some seasoning before he can be thrown to the proverbial wolves on Sundays.
If the Dolphins make the foolish decision to play the Texas A&M product, they could face some serious obstacles in regards to his growth moving forward.
Besides, Matt Moore did more than enough to hold down the fort while Tannehill hones his technique and better understands the nuances of the league.
Moore completed over 60 percent of his passes and threw seven more touchdowns en route to a 6-6 record as the Dolphins' starter last season. He should be stronger in 2012 with a full offseason under his belt and a stronger running game behind him.