The Best Rookie vs. Veteran Battle on Every NFL Roster
Position battles are usually the talk of NFL training camps, minicamps and organized team activities, and no position battle is as fun as the classic rookie vs. veteran staple.
Looking at every team, it is easy to see a position at which a rookie and veteran will battle it out for playing time. Some of these positions are starting spots. Others are backup roles.
Every team has one, though. No matter how significant the role is, no matter how small the names are, there is a veteran battling a rookie for a job on every team.
Which players are locked in battle on your team?
Inside Linebacker: Kevin Minter vs. Jasper Brinkley vs. Karlos Dansby
After he returns from his four-game suspension, Daryl Washington will claim one of the team's two inside linebacker spots. That leaves Kevin Minter, Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby to battle it out for the other spot.
A second-round pick, Minter clearly has a future in Arizona. He's a big, run-defending inside linebacker with average athleticism. Brinkley is a similar player, if less talented, while Dansby is more athletic and adept in coverage.
To start this year, Dansby should start. The younger Minter should be able to beat out Brinkley as well.
Predicted Winner: Dansby
Tight End: Levine Toilolo vs. Chase Coffman
Not a superstar by any means, Levine Toilolo is probably the favorite to back up Tony Gonzalez. Chase Coffman has never been known for his blocking ability and has accounted for just 42 receiving yards thus far in his career
At 6'8", 260 pounds, Toilolo is a massive threat in the red zone with some potential. He won't amaze anyone athletically, but that size is a weapon.
Predicted Winner: Toilolo
Nose Tackle: Brandon Williams vs. Terrence Cody
There probably isn't actually a competition here, but it's the closest one for a Baltimore Ravens rookie.
Though not a bad nose tackle, Terrence Cody certainly isn't anything special, and Brandon Williams has the potential to be much better. The 6'1", 335-pound Williams is incredibly powerful and surprisingly light on his feet. He's still raw, but his potential is enormous.
However, Cody's experience and average play should keep his job safe. Given Williams' lack of refinement, this seems like a pretty easy victory for Cody.
Predicted Winner: Cody
Quarterback: EJ Manuel vs. Kevin Kolb
Quarterback doesn't look like it will be a strong position for the Buffalo Bills in 2013. Though he was the No. 16 pick, EJ Manuel is raw and unrefined as a passer. He struggles with ball placement, and he faces a learning curve in adjusting to an NFL offense.
Kevin Kolb, on the other hand, isn't much better. He has struggled away from Andy Reid, and the physically limited passer won't impress many. This job will go to the player with more potential and talent.
Predicted Winner: Manuel
Defensive Tackle: Kawann Short vs. Dwan Edwards
Kawann Short and Dwan Edwards are different types of defensive tackles, but they nonetheless find themselves locked in a competition. Edwards is a 6'3", 300-pound penetrating tackle who had six sacks in 2012. Short is a fireplug of a run-stopper.
Both Short and Edwards look to see plenty of playing time as they rotate in and out. Short offers a more stout run defense, and Edwards should make more plays in the backfield.
However, if the Panthers were comfortable with Edwards starting, they wouldn't have used their first two picks on powerful defensive tackles.
Predicted Winner: Short
Middle Linebacker: Jon Bostic vs. D.J. Williams
Whoever wins this job will replace a legend. Brian Urlacher's career has ended, and the Chicago Bears are looking to replace him.
The favorite for the job appears to be second-round pick Jon Bostic, but D.J. Williams is a legitimate contender. Both players are strong athletes, but Bostic has more upside moving forward and may already be better.
Predicted Winner: Bostic
Tight End: Tyler Eifert vs. Jermaine Gresham
It may be difficult to establish a true winner here, as both tight ends will see the field plenty. Cincinnati will likely utilize many two-tight-end sets, and the team will move Tyler Eifert all over the field, from tight end to wide receiver.
However, there will be times when the Bengals have just one tight end on the field. In those situations, Jermaine Gresham will see the majority of snaps. He's a talented player, and experience is on his side.
Predicted Winner: Gresham
Outside Linebacker: Barkevious Mingo vs. Jabaal Sheard
This is a situation in which both players will see plenty of action. Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a creative, pass-rush-focused mind, and he will find ways to put his best pass-rushers on the field.
That category certainly includes both Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard. While Mingo has significantly more upside attacking the quarterback, Sheard is a stronger run defender and has two years of NFL starting experience.
There may not be a true winner here, as both players could play near equal amounts. However, pass rush is the most important part of Horton's scheme, and he should look to emphasize that with his choice.
Predicted Winner: Mingo
Wide Receiver: Terrance Williams vs. Anthony Armstrong
Dallas' top two wide receiver spots are obviously filled by Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. The situation gets a bit more interesting at the No. 3 spot.
Anthony Armstrong has generally been extremely unproductive, save for a successful 2010 campaign with the Redskins. Terrance Williams is a talented wideout with deep speed and reasonable upside.
With the Cowboys' pass-oriented offense, it's difficult to imagine the team going with a player as lackluster as Armstrong.
Predicted Winner: Williams
Running Back: Montee Ball vs. Willis McGahee
There are a number of possible starters here—Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman could compete for carries—but Montee Ball and Willis McGahee seem to lead the pack. Now 31 years old, McGahee is starting to fade, and he isn't an upper-level running back at this point.
Ball, however, may not be anything amazing either. He is a workhorse running back, but he lacks the natural talent of a great runner. This job could start out as McGahee's but switch over to Ball by midseason.
Predicted Winner: McGahee
Cornerback: Darius Slay vs. Bill Bentley
Both Darius Slay and Bill Bentley are Day 2 picks from the past two drafts. Bentley saw significant playing time in 2012 but struggled, and the Detroit Lions seem to have at least been looking for his replacement.
Slay is a terrific athlete, but he may not be the best cornerback. He has upside, and Bentley doesn't seem to offer much in the way of competition.
By spending the No. 36 pick on Slay, the Lions showed that they like him, and it's reasonable for them to expect him to start.
Predicted Winner: Slay
Green Bay Packers
Defensive End: Datone Jones vs. C.J. Wilson
The Packers spent a first-round pick on Datone Jones, and there is no reason why he shouldn't start. At this point, C.J. Wilson may be a bit more stout against the run, but that is the only advantage he may have over Jones.
At 6'4", 280 pounds, Jones is in need of bulking up, but he is a terrific athlete. The UCLA product has the ability to penetrate against the run, and he is shockingly smooth and explosive as a pass-rusher.
With a few more pounds, Jones can be a star in Green Bay's 3-4 defense, and it may not take him long to excel.
Predicted Winner: Jones
Strong Safety: D.J. Swearinger vs. Danieal Manning
With Ed Reed seemingly locked in at free safety, Houston should have a strong competition at strong safety. Both D.J. Swearinger and Danieal Manning are more experienced at free safety, and Swearinger has the advantage in switching.
The 208-pound Swearinger is a violent hitter who will likely earn many fines throughout his NFL career. Manning isn't as physical and is better off in coverage.
Manning's experience and solid 2012 season give him a big boost here. Swearinger should still see the field, but he isn't nearly as consistent in coverage as Manning is, and that hurts him.
Predicted Winner: Manning
Outside Linebacker: Bjoern Werner vs. Erik Walden
Erik Walden has jumped around, playing for three teams since 2008 and never picking up more than three sacks in a year. That is why Bjoern Werner has a legitimate chance to start.
A flawed player, Werner isn't great against the run, but he can rush the passer. The first-round pick has an explosive first step and the ability to work the edge.
Pass rush is increasingly crucial in the NFL, and that fact should lead to Werner starting over the free-agent acquisition.
Predicted Starter: Werner
Wide Receiver: Ace Sanders vs. Mohamed Massaquoi
A bland wide receiver with little speed, quickness or catching ability, Mohamed Massaquoi doesn't offer the Jacksonville Jaguars very much. Ace Sanders, in comparison, is fast, explosive and abundant with playmaking ability. The latter sounds like a great fit as Jacksonville's slot receiver.
Sanders is a weapon with the ball in his hands. There's a night-and-day difference in the respect defenses have to pay Sanders and Massaquoi, and the rookie could add a legitimate threat to the Jaguars offense.
Predicted Winner: Sanders
Kansas City Chiefs
Tight End: Travis Kelce vs. Tony Moeaki
A talented player, Tony Moeaki struggles to stay on the field, as he is seemingly always hurt. Kelce, a third-round pick, is bigger and just as athletic.
At 6'3", 245 pounds, Moeaki has impressed with his receiving ability. The 6'5", 255-pound Travis Kelce outshines him as a blocker and is still a great receiving target.
Kelce may face an adjustment moving forward, but he is the more talented option, and that should benefit him.
Predicted Winner: Kelce
Cornerback: Jamar Taylor vs. Richard Marshall
Both Jamar Taylor and Richard Marshall are recovering from injuries, further complicating this battle. Assuming healthy returns, Taylor is the more talented player and better option to start.
Marshall has never shown starting ability in the NFL, but Taylor is an explosive athlete with fluid hips and great coverage ability. Obviously, he is only a rookie, but he is a terrific talent who can start from day one.
Predicted Starter: Taylor
Cornerback: Xavier Rhodes vs. A.J. Jefferson
Xavier Rhodes' draft stock was always based on upside. The 6'1", 210-pounder is obviously big, athletic and strong. He isn't yet a great cornerback, but his physical ability gives him the ability to develop into one.
So is Rhodes ready to start right now? He may not be, but A.J. Jefferson doesn't offer much competition. The 25-year-old has 14 career starts and has never impressed.
It looks like Rhodes will start from Day 1, but not necessarily because he's ready. It could be because the Minnesota Vikings simply don't have another option.
Predicted Winner: Rhodes
New England Patriots
Wide Receiver: Aaron Dobson vs. Michael Jenkins
Michael Jenkins has established himself as a boring possession wide receiver with little playmaking ability. He isn't a great fit in New England's offense, which emphasizes downfield passing.
Aaron Dobson, on the other hand, is a great fit. The 6'3", 210-pounder possesses blazing speed and excels when attacking vertically. He has explosive playmaking ability.
Jenkins may serve a role for the New England Patriots, but Dobson is a better fit for what the team tries to do, and he has significantly more potential.
Predicted Winner: Dobson
New Orleans Saints
Left Tackle: Charles Brown vs. Terron Armstead
Terron Armstead caught the national media's attention after a terrific combine performance in which he ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard dash. The 6'5", 305-pounder is undeniably athletic, but he may not be ready to step in for the New Orleans Saints.
Charles Brown was a similar athletic project coming out but is just now getting the chance to start. Brown may not be great at left tackle, but he is certainly more ready than Armstead is.
Armstead played at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and needs to add strength. His athleticism could still win him a job, but that seems a bit far-fetched.
Predicted Winner: Brown
New York Giants
Defensive Tackle: Johnathan Hankins vs. Cullen Jenkins
This shouldn't be much of a competition. At age 32, Cullen Jenkins is starting to get old, but he is still a quick, disrupting defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability. He is an excellent fit next to the massive Linval Joseph.
Johnathan Hankins is an athletic but unrefined run-stopping defensive tackle. He doesn't produce much of a pass rush, and he isn't great yet. It is tough to imagine him starting.
Predicted Winner: Jenkins
New York Jets
Quarterback: Geno Smith vs. Mark Sanchez
It's no secret that Mark Sanchez has had his struggles in NYC. He has often been a turnover machine, and there aren't really any positives to his play.
Geno Smith surprisingly fell to the second round, but he has great ability. The West Virginia product is a good athlete who is smart and mechanically sound enough to start as a rookie.
It will take a step for the New York Jets to move past Sanchez, but it's a move the team needs to make.
Predicted Winner: Smith
Quarterback: Tyler Wilson vs. Matt Flynn vs. Terrelle Pryor
The Oakland Raiders spent a fourth-round pick on Tyler Wilson, and he has a legitimate chance to start. The Arkansas product is a superb athlete with great arm strength and potential.
Matt Flynn, at this point, looks like a limited option. He doesn't have great throwing ability and struggles to play vertically. While talented, Terrelle Pryor isn't good at throwing the football. This, combined with his lack of football intelligence, is a huge issue.
Oakland will probably roll with the veteran Flynn at least to start the season, but the arrangement may not last long.
Predicted Winner: Flynn
Quarterback: Matt Barkley vs. Michael Vick vs. Nick Foles
It is possible that any one of these three starts for the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick is the definite favorite, but Nick Foles or Matt Barkley could pull the upset and win the job.
Vick's natural athleticism and running ability make him an ideal fit in Chip Kelly's offense. Neither Foles nor Barkley is particularly mobile, though Barkley is certainly more accurate.
It seems likely that Vick beats out the competition here, but if he doesn't, expect Barkley to be the winner.
Predicted Winner: Vick
Running Back: Le'Veon Bell vs. Jonathan Dwyer
Both Jonathan Dwyer and Le'Veon Bell are huge running backs, but Bell is more athletic and the product of a 2013 second-round draft pick. The Pittsburgh Steelers' running back situation won't be great in 2013, but with luck, it could be decent.
Despite measuring in at 6'1", 230 pounds, Bell doesn't always run with much power. In fact, Dwyer plays much more powerfully, and he breaks tackles more easily.
Until Bell begins to use his size and power more efficiently, this job should be Dwyer's. Bell has the talent, but he doesn't know how to use it.
Predicted Winner: Dwyer
San Diego Chargers
Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen vs. Danario Alexander
There is no denying Danario Alexander's talent. The 6'5", 217-pounder is big and athletic with great playmaking ability. He has, however, struggled with injuries.
Keenan Allen isn't as freakish, but he can catch the football and shows excellent ability with the ball in his hands. His lack of deep speed could hurt him, as Alexander is a much stronger vertical threat.
Predicted Winner: Alexander
San Francisco 49ers
Wide Receiver: Quinton Patton vs. A.J. Jenkins vs. Kyle Williams
Michael Crabtree is out with a torn Achilles tendon, and the San Francisco 49ers need someone to step up and replace him. A first-round pick in 2012, A.J. Jenkins failed to contribute as a rookie, but it's too soon to give up on him.
Kyle Williams hasn't been overly productive at wideout either, and most of his experience is as a return man. Quinton Patton was a fourth-round selection, but he is quick and can catch the ball.
With San Francisco's current wide receiver situation, that is a contributor.
Predicted Winner: Patton
Running Back: Christine Michael vs. Robert Turbin
The Seattle Seahawks seem to love power running backs, as clearly evidenced by Marshawn Lynch. To go further, Seattle spent a 2012 fourth-round pick on Robert Turbin and then used a second-round pick in 2013 on Christine Michael.
Turbin and Michael offer similar size/athleticism combinations, but Michael is a more talented running back. He plays with better vision, more burst and superior quickness. He is a more complete player.
Michael seems ready to spell Lynch as a rookie, as he is more talented than Turbin and better suited to handle third downs.
Predicted Winner: Michael
St. Louis Rams
Running Back: Zac Stacy vs. Isaiah Pead
It seems unlikely that anyone beats out Daryl Richardson for the top job, but Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead could compete to see who gets to spell him. Pead is an undersized back with burst and shiftiness, while Stacy is bigger and more powerful.
In 2012, Pead failed to live up to the hype, gaining just 54 rushing yards. If he doesn't take a big step forward, Stacy could pass him, and it's possible the Vanderbilt product could even start by season's end.
However, Pead was raw as a rookie, and his natural ability may be able to show itself with another year in the NFL.
Predicted Winner: Pead
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cornerback: Johnthan Banks vs. Eric Wright
Over the past two years, Tampa Bay has completely revamped its secondary, adding Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson, Darrelle Revis, Eric Wright and Johnthan Banks.
The inconsistent Wright has had some off-field issues, but he has put together some impressive seasons in addition to a couple disappointing ones. Banks is an unknown, but his size and technique are appealing traits.
Wright's skill set makes him a great fit as a nickelback, and Banks may already be the superior player.
Predicted Winner: Banks
Wide Receiver: Justin Hunter vs. Nate Washington
In 2012, Nate Washington was merely decent, picking up 746 receiving yards, often serving as Tennessee's top healthy wide receiver.
Justin Hunter has some flaws—he drops far too many passes—but his 6'4" frame and athletic ability make him an intriguing weapon, even as a rookie. Hunter at times makes incredible catches, but he will also drop far too many routine completions.
At this point, Washington is nothing special, and Hunter offers a vastly superior vertical threat. His added playmaking ability makes him the superior option.
Predicted Winner: Hunter
Cornerback: David Amerson vs. DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall has been fading for quite some time now, and he would be better off as a nickelback. However, like Hall, David Amerson has a tendency to get burned too often, so he may not offer an upgrade right now.
In time, Amerson has a unique skill set to offer. The 6'1", 205-pounder is a terrific athlete with incredible ball skills. He could be an interception machine, much like Hall was earlier in his career.
Currently, Amerson is too inconsistent. He makes big plays, but also looks bad far too often. The same can be said about Hall, of course, but he is better right now.
Predicted Winner: Hall