Every NFL Team's Most Positive Training-Camp Dilemma

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIJuly 23, 2015

Every NFL Team's Most Positive Training-Camp Dilemma

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    Set to compete for a starting job at left guard in training camp, La'el Collins (71) could make the Dallas Cowboys' vaunted offensive line even better in 2015.
    Set to compete for a starting job at left guard in training camp, La'el Collins (71) could make the Dallas Cowboys' vaunted offensive line even better in 2015.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Every NFL team will have to make tough decisions as training camps progress throughout the league. Some of those decisions, however, are ones teams should be happy they have to make.

    The following dilemmas aren't really dilemmas at all, at least in the negative sense of the word. While each of these situations will require decision-making and/or creativity to sort out, they are good problems for each team to have.

    Many of the position battles you will hear about this summer stem from uncertainty, as teams try to establish new starters at positions where their regulars from last season underperformed or are no longer with the team.

    The following circumstances, though, should only make teams better as they play out over the next month or two. 

    In each of the following situations, the only real concern for each NFL team is that they might have more talent than they know what to do with. The dilemmas highlighted in the following slides look at positions where each team has significant depth and will have to determine, over the course of training camp, which players most deserve to be on the field and/or how they can keep the other players involved in the game plan. 

    Teams listed in alphabetical order.

Arizona Cardinals: Determining Starters at Safety

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    Tyrann Mathieu will be among the Arizona Cardinals safeties competing for playing time this summer.
    Tyrann Mathieu will be among the Arizona Cardinals safeties competing for playing time this summer.Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    The Arizona Cardinals are well stocked at safety, with four players at the position who started at least six games last season and have a valid case for being part of the first-team defense in 2015.

    Third-year free safety Tyrann Mathieu is expected to be fully healthy this year after coming back slowly from a torn ACL last season, while second-year strong safety Deone Bucannon projects to take on a bigger role after being a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

    That said, the Cardinals have two other options to start at safety in Rashad Johnson, a seventh-year player who was a 16-game starter last season for the first time in his career, and Tony Jefferson, who has started 10 games at strong safety in his first two NFL seasons despite going undrafted in 2013.

    Mathieu and Bucannon are the best athletes of the bunch and have the most playmaking upside among the quartet. Yet Johnson led the entire Cardinals defense in snaps played last year, according to Pro Football Focus, while Jefferson is a strong run defender and all-around underappreciated player who deserves to have a role on defense.

    Because the Cardinals have so much talent at the position, they will likely have three of the safeties on the field at one time—if not four—when they are playing in sub-packages against the pass. Mathieu will likely move from safety to slot cornerback in nickel packages, while Bucannon can also be utilized as a linebacker in sub-packages, though Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has said he will play more safety than linebacker this year, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.

    Regardless of who ends up starting in the base defense, the good news for the Cardinals is they have the flexibility to move their defensive backs around as they see fit while holding plenty of depth at the position—Chris Clemons, a former starter for the Miami Dolphins, is also on the roster—if injuries strike.

Atlanta Falcons: What Will the Defensive Front Look Like?

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    The pieces are in place for Dan Quinn to rebuild the Atlanta Falcons defense this season.
    The pieces are in place for Dan Quinn to rebuild the Atlanta Falcons defense this season.Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    While NFL defenses are often characterized as either 4-3 schemes or 3-4 schemes, it's rarely that simple. Like many defenses, the Atlanta Falcons' 2015 alignment under new head coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith projects to have a multi-front look that utilizes elements from both schemes.

    Assuming the Falcons defense will look similar to the one Quinn led as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, its primary look will be a 4-3 under. As broken down nicely by Alec Shirkey of the Falcoholic, this defense actually looks more like a 3-4 front in appearance even though it uses four defensive linemen and three linebackers.

    With that being said, the Falcons are not going to simply utilize one look for their defensive front but are expected to be creative, using a variety of different schemes and alignments. Determining how those schemes will actually come together will be one of their most important priorities during training camp.

    The good news is the Falcons have far more personnel options in their defensive front seven than they had last season, which will give the new coaching staff an opportunity to build packages that will be disruptive and make them difficult to game-plan for.

    A few roles on the defense might already be decided: Paul Soliai projects to be the nose tackle, Paul Worrilow should retain his status as the starting middle linebacker and Brooks Reed joined the team to start at strong-side linebacker.

    Elsewhere on the defense, training camp will play a huge role in determining how the front seven looks come Week 1. Draft picks Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, high-upside second-year defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman, free-agent additions Adrian Clayborn, Justin Durant and O'Brien Schofield, and returning veteran defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann will all jockey for playing time and roles within the multi-front scheme.

    As was the case with Quinn's unit in Seattle, the 2015 Falcons defense will likely be rotation-heavy, with many players coming in and out of the game frequently on the front seven. Even so, the team could face tough decisions in not only determining which players will start but who will make the roster cut.

Baltimore Ravens: How to Get Za'Darius Smith Involved on Defense

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    Za'Darius Smith is already making a push for playing time in Baltimore.
    Za'Darius Smith is already making a push for playing time in Baltimore.Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Even though Za'Darius Smith was only the fourth player selected by the Baltimore Ravens in this year's NFL draft, he was "arguably their most impressive and consistent rookie" in offseason workouts, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

    "Smith consistently displayed athleticism, explosiveness and instincts as a pass-rusher and was also adept in pass coverage," Wilson said.

    The fourth-round pick, who was a two-year starter at Kentucky after transferring from junior college, sounds ready to make an immediate impact in his inaugural NFL season. How significantly he will factor into the team's plans this season, however, is something the Ravens will have to determine over the course of training camp.

    Offering a comparable skill set to that of Pernell McPhee, Smith is considered a replacement for the veteran who left for the Bears in free agency, according to Wilson. Even so, Smith projects as no better than the fourth outside linebacker on the depth chart behind Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw.

    Just as they did with McPhee, who graded out as Pro Football Focus' second-best 3-4 outside linebacker last season despite seeing only limited playing time, the Ravens will work Smith into the rotation if he earns it.

    The question is just how much, as Suggs and Dumervil are both top-tier pass-rushers, while Upshaw is a strong run defender. But if Smith continues to impress in training camp and the preseason and picks up the defensive playbook quickly, he has the size (6'4", 275 lbs) and skill to play a similar role to McPhee as a versatile defender who can play everywhere from outside linebacker to interior defensive line.

Buffalo Bills: What to Do with the Backup Running Backs

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    Fred Jackson projects to have a reduced role in the Bills offense this year.
    Fred Jackson projects to have a reduced role in the Bills offense this year.Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Over the past five years, the Buffalo Bills have taken a committee approach to the running back position, with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller splitting the majority of the carries. That arrangement is set to change in 2015, however, with Spiller out and LeSean McCoy in.

    McCoy, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, is one of the NFL's elite running backs. The Bills presumably would not have traded inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had an excellent rookie season in 2013 before missing 2014 with a torn ACL, if they did not expect McCoy to have a three-down presence within their offense.

    New offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who comes to the team after four years in the same role with the San Francisco 49ers, seemingly favors a feature back approach. From 2011 to 2014, Frank Gore had at least 255 carries each year, while no other running back had more than 112 in a single season.

    It is therefore likely that McCoy, who had at least 312 carries in each of his final two seasons in Philadelphia, will take the lion's share of the Bills' rushing attempts this season, barring injury.

    That will push Jackson into a more complementary role for the 2015 season. Given that he is geriatric for a running back at 34 years old, that's probably a good thing. But it could also mean he will be competing for playing time—and potentially even his roster spot—with the other running backs.

    Anthony Dixon performed solidly in his first year with the team last season, while the Bills presumably want to try to find a role for Bryce Brown, McCoy's former backup in Philadelphia, after trading a fourth-round pick for him last year. Also in the mix to compete for a backup running back job is Karlos Williams, their fifth-round draft pick this year, whose roster spot should be safe if he can establish his worth on special teams.

    The addition of McCoy gives the Bills the potential to have a bona fide star at the running back position, which could provide a huge spark to their offense. But it will force the team to make a tough decision on who else makes the roster at the position and to be creative if it wants to keep Jackson or any of the other backs regularly involved in the game plan.

Carolina Panthers: How to Maximize Shaq Thompson's Versatile Skill Set

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    It's easy to see the appeal of Shaq Thompson, arguably the most versatile prospect in the 2015 NFL draft, who enticed the Carolina Panthers to draft him with their first-round pick. But if they are going to maximize the impact that his versatility can provide this season, they're going to need to be inventive.

    While Thompson is expected to emerge as the starting weak-side linebacker for the base defense, that in itself might not make him an every-down player as a rookie.

    Because the Panthers already have two outstanding linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis who are three-down staples of their defense, Thompson would be the candidate to come off the field when the team shifts into nickel packages. Last season, Carolina only utilized weak-side linebacker A.J. Klein in the base defense.

    With Thompson in the lineup instead of Klein, however, the Panthers might want to consider changing things up.

    Thompson, who played both linebacker and defensive back at Washington, is at his best in pass coverage, so it would not be in the team's best interest to make him a player who sees most of his playing time against the run. That could mean keeping three linebackers on the field more frequently than the Panthers have in the past, but it could also mean moving Thompson all over the defense so he can play linebacker in some situations and strong safety in others.

    Either way, they should look to get Thompson in on the action as much as possible to justify selecting him with the No. 25 overall pick.

    Thompson is an excellent special teams player, so there could be a role for him there as well, while he also proved at Washington that he can play running back if needed. The Panthers' focus, however, needs to be on making him an impact player—and not just a situational role playeron their defense.

Chicago Bears: Setting Up the Outside Linebacker Rotation

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    Lamarr Houston (99), Sam Acho (49) and David Bass (91) are among the outside linebackers competing for playing time with the Chicago Bears this summer.
    Lamarr Houston (99), Sam Acho (49) and David Bass (91) are among the outside linebackers competing for playing time with the Chicago Bears this summer.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears have invested a lot of money into the edge of their defense over the past two seasons. After bringing in Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston as free agents in 2014, the Bears continued adding veterans at the position this offseason by signing Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho.

    Now, with five veteran edge defenders on the roster who were all regular contributors for their previous teams, the Bears must figure out how to put all their skill sets to use this upcoming season.

    McPhee and Acho, who come from 3-4 defenses like that which Chicago will employ this season under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, are better fits for the new defensive scheme than Allen, Young and Houston, who were all signed to be 4-3 defensive ends in 2014 when ousted general manager Phil Emery was still calling the shots on personnel decisions.

    Allen, Young and Houston were all disappointments in their first years in Chicago, while Houston is working his way back from a torn ACL. Even so, those players have too much talent—and have too much invested in them—for the Bears to give up on them now.

    McPhee, who signed a five-year, $38.75 million contract with the Bears in March, will almost certainly move into an every-down role this year. The other four players will be competing with one another for playing time in training camp.

    The good news for the Bears is they have no shortage of players with the skills to generate pressure as pass-rushers from the outside. While the returning veterans need to prove they are worth the money they're being paid, the Bears will be able to rotate heavily on the edge and experiment with a multitude of lineups.

Cincinnati Bengals: Finding a Role for 2014 First-Round Pick Darqueze Dennard

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    The Cincinnati Bengals need to find a role for Darqueze Dennard this season.
    The Cincinnati Bengals need to find a role for Darqueze Dennard this season.Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    With a well-rounded and deep roster largely composed of players who are eligible for free agency in 2016, the Cincinnati Bengals have had a luxury over the past couple of years of not needing to rely on many draft picks to make an immediate impact. If they are going to take a step forward from just making the playoffs to actually winning games within it, however, they are going to need to get more value out of their recent draft picks in 2015.

    One player in particular they should look to get more heavily involved in their defense is Darqueze Dennard.

    Despite being selected with the No. 24 overall pick in last year's draft, Dennard played just 61 snaps on defense as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus.

    That's not necessarily a reflection of his readiness to play last year but simply a result of the depth Cincinnati already had at his position. Behind Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, Dennard was situated as the fifth cornerback on the depth chart in 2014.

    The departure of Newman could open a window for Dennard to play in a more regular capacity this season, but according to ESPN.com's Coley Harvey, Kirkpatrick is seizing that opportunity, even though Dennard "had a strong enough spring that defensive coaches will have their hands full this summer figuring out how they can get him on the field regularly."

    "Look for Dre Kirkpatrick to start at the left cornerback position this season, with Leon Hall also getting the lion's share of reps at the nickel corner spot," Harvey wrote. "Since both will occupy the position's Dennard might be best suited for, it stands to reason he probably will be coming off the bench again this fall."

    As Harvey noted, the Bengals will want to find ways to get Dennard in on the action as much as possible if he continues to perform well in training camp. If they are unable to do so, the good news is they could have one of the best backup cornerbacks in the entire NFL. That's depth they can feel good about.

Cleveland Browns: Should Cameron Erving Start as a Rookie?

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    Cameron Erving is set to compete for the starting right guard job in Cleveland Browns training camp.
    Cameron Erving is set to compete for the starting right guard job in Cleveland Browns training camp.Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cleveland Browns already had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, with a strong group of five returning starters that consists of left tackle Joe Thomas, left guard Joel Bitonio, center Alex Mack, right guard John Greco and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Even so, there will be legitimate competition for a starting spot on that unit this summer as No. 19 overall pick Cameron Erving tries to work his way into the lineup as a rookie.

    The first dilemma the Browns face with Erving is determining what position he is best suited to play. Having played both left tackle and center in his senior season at Florida State, Erving "played at all five spots at one point or another throughout the offseason workout program," according to Andrew Gribble of ClevelandBrowns.com. But given that Thomas, Bitonio and Mack are all among the best in the NFL at their respective positions, Erving will have to find a home on the right side of the line if he is going to start this year.

    At the end of spring workouts, Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Erving is expected to begin camp at right guard, where he will compete with Greco, according to Tom Reed of Cleveland.com.

    Potentially replacing Greco in the lineup, however, is not an easy decision. Pro Football Focus ranked Greco as the 11th-best guard in the NFL last season, while Erving will be learning a new position.

    In the long run, the rookie might end up being a replacement at center for Mack, who could opt out of his contract after the 2015 season, as reported by ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi. For 2015, though, the Browns have a tough decision to make about whether putting Erving in the lineup this year can make their offensive line better.

    Regardless of how it plays out, Erving will provide strong insurance in case of injury, as he offers the versatility to fill in at any position on the line.

Dallas Cowboys: La'el Collins vs. Ronald Leary

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    Ronald Leary (65) will compete to keep his starting job on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
    Ronald Leary (65) will compete to keep his starting job on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    While the aforementioned Cleveland Browns have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL. Much like the Browns, the Cowboys also have a highly regarded rookie who is competing for a spot in the lineup, even though Dallas already has an adequate starter at his position.

    The big difference between potential Browns starting right guard Cameron Erving and potential Cowboys starting left guard La'el Collins is that while Erving was a first-round pick, Collins went undrafted. That said, Collins was arguably a better talent than Erving; he went undrafted only because of a murder investigation he was linked to just days before the draft.

    Collins, who has not been charged with any crime, ended up signing with Dallas as a free agent. Now, Dallas will have to make a decision as to whether Collins or incumbent starter Ronald Leary is the best option to start at left guard.

    A three-year starter at LSU, Collins finished his collegiate career with two seasons at left tackle but is best suited to play on the interior in the NFL. He does not have the optimal length or lateral quickness for playing on the edge, but his burst and power could make him a force inside.

    Leary, on the other hand, is no pushover. Ranked by Pro Football Focus as the NFL's 17th-best guard last season, he is the worst pass-blocker among the Cowboys' returning starters but is a physical, tenacious run-blocker.

    Presumably, Collins would not have chosen to sign with the Cowboys if he was not going to get a legitimate shot at starting as a rookie. He has the upside to be a true upgrade over Leary, but the battle might come down to how quickly Collins progresses and gets reaccustomed to the left guard position.

    Like the aforementioned Erving, Collins offers versatility. Since he has experience at both tackle and guard, he should be able to fill in at any one of four positions on the offensive line if needed, regardless of whether he beats out Leary to start up front.

Denver Broncos: Determining a Role for First-Round Pick Shane Ray

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    With needs at other positions—specifically, their offensive line—the Denver Broncos would not have traded up to select Shane Ray with the No. 23 overall pick if they did not think he could make an immediate impact on their defense. What exactly his role will be within that defense, however, is something the Broncos will have to figure out in camp.

    Ray, whose 14.5 sacks were the third-highest in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season, has the athleticism and skills to provide an instant spark to the Broncos' pass rush at outside linebacker in their new 3-4 defense. The problem is the Broncos already have two starters at that position in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who are consistently productive pass-rushers.

    The obvious answer to this dilemma is that Ray will likely be used in a rotation. As Ware will turn 33 later this month and is slowing down, he would likely benefit from a role in which he splits snaps with Ray, enabling the veteran to be fresh when he is on the field.

    With that being said, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips should also be creative in trying to find ways to get all three pass-rushers on the field at the same time.

    While Ware projects to be a better run defender than Ray and will likely start ahead of him on early downs, he still has enough pass-rushing ability that he should continue to be utilized in that phase of the game. Although Ray is more explosive than Ware at this point in his career, the veteran showed he could still win with skill last season by recording 10 sacks for the eighth double-digit-sack year of his career.

    The Broncos are in a good position with the trio, as Ray—who is learning a new position after playing defensive line at Missouri—is best suited to start out as a situational pass-rusher in 2015. The trouble only lies in determining the plausibility of taking advantage of the trio's talents simultaneously.

Detroit Lions: Can Kyle Van Noy Become a Regular on Defense?

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    Kyle Van Noy will be expected to break out in 2015 after a disappointing rookie year.
    Kyle Van Noy will be expected to break out in 2015 after a disappointing rookie year.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Set back by a sports hernia injury that put him on injured reserve with a return designation for the first half of the year, 2014 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy failed to make a significant impact for the Detroit Lions. But while his rookie season fell well short of expectations, the Lions should do their best to maximize his ability in 2015.

    Upon his return from injury in Week 10 last season, Van Noy failed to earn regular playing time in the Lions defense. With Tahir Whitehead filling in adequately for injured starting middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, Van Noy received just 51 regular-season snaps as he split reps with Josh Bynes and Ashlee Palmer at strong-side linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.

    During a press conference at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew implied that injury and lack of opportunity might not have been the only reasons Van Noy didn't get significant playing time in the defensive rotation down the stretch last season, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:

    He can have a huge role if he has a great off-season and plays great. If he doesn't have a great off-season and he doesn't play great, then his role won't be as big.

    I think, a lot of times with young players, not him specifically, but they come from a place where they've been great players and superstars and then they come into a new team, and now they've got to work their way up and play special teams and do stuff that they didn't do in college. So sometimes that's an adjustment process.

    All of that said, Van Noy was a highly versatile player at BYU who offers a combination of pass-rushing ability, coverage skill and range that is tailor-made for the "Sam" linebacker position. So even though Whitehead is a solid player, Van Noy should get every opportunity to seize the job away from him this summer.

    Yet even if Van Noy shines this summer and clearly beats out Whitehead, the Lions will have to make adjustments to enable him to make a regular impact on their defense. With Tulloch returning to the lineup and expected to reprise his role as an every-down player alongside weak-side linebacker DeAndre Levy, the strong-side linebacker has been a position Detroit has only utilized in its base scheme over the past two seasons.

    It's possible Tulloch, who is 30 years old and coming off a torn ACL, could cede some snaps to Van Noy if the second-year player starts to realize his potential this season. Either way, it appears the Lions have plenty of options among linebackers who can be counted on as both run defenders and pass defenders.

Green Bay Packers: No Starting Spot Available for JC Tretter

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    Unless injuries occur, JC Tretter will have to settle for being a backup for the Green Bay Packers.
    Unless injuries occur, JC Tretter will have to settle for being a backup for the Green Bay Packers.Morry Gash/Associated Press

    At this time last summer, JC Tretter was set to take over as the Green Bay Packers' starting center following the departure in free agency of Evan Dietrich-Smith. But when Tretter suffered a knee injury in the preseason that knocked him out for the first half of the year, it opened the door for rookie Corey Linsley to assert himself as one of the best centers in the league, relegating Tretter to the bench upon his return.

    Going into his third season, Tretter is a versatile offensive lineman who has seen practice time at all five positions up front, as he told Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Like Linsley last year, however, Tretter will need an injury to occur in front of him in order to get a spot in the starting lineup.

    With left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Josh Sitton, center Linsley, right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the Packers have a strong starting five up front. All of those players should be locked in to their spots in the lineup for 2015.

    The upside for the Packers is if Tretter can avoid his own injury bug that has plagued him thus far in his career, they will have a smart, reliable backup who can plug into any position on the offensive line (though Don Barclay would probably go in before him at offensive tackle) if needed.

    That's not an ideal situation for Tretter, considering the opportunity he could have had last season, but it gives Green Bay a reason to feel good about its depth on the offensive line.

Houston Texans: Nate Washington vs. Cecil Shorts III vs. Jaelen Strong

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    Cecil Shorts III is competing for a chance to start at wide receiver for the Houston Texans.
    Cecil Shorts III is competing for a chance to start at wide receiver for the Houston Texans.Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Considering he is the most accomplished player in the franchise's short history to date, Andre Johnson will surely be missed in the Houston Texans receiving corps this offseason. The Texans left themselves in fine position to replace him, however, by adding three wide receivers this offseason with the talent to be starters.

    In free agency, the team signed two experienced veteran wideouts in Nate Washington, who started at least 11 games in each of his six years with the Tennessee Titans, and Cecil Shorts III, who started 34 games over his last three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While both players are coming off down years, they are adequate possession receivers with enough skill to be solid No. 2 starters opposite DeAndre Hopkins.

    Washington is not a particularly big (6'1", 183 lbs) or explosive player, but he is a reliable pass-catcher who uses his route-running ability to get open. Shorts has had some issues with drops throughout his career but is a more dynamic athlete who has the ability to extend plays downfield.

    Either one of those players could end up surging ahead, seizing the starting job and having a productive season in the lineup. During minicamp in June, Texans coach Bill O'Brien implied Washington was off to a strong start.

    "I think he's had a good spring," O'Brien said of Washington, according to HoustonTexans.com. "He's a guy that's come in here and learned our offense. It's not an easy offense to learn, but he's obviously studied it, gone out there and made a connection with both quarterbacks."

    Even so, it's also possible both veterans could lose out in training camp to Jaelen Strong, the Texans' third-round pick. A big, physical wideout, Strong showed a great ability to move the chains in the intermediate passing game and adjust to make plays on the ball downfield in two seasons at Arizona State.

    He didn't play quite as fast as the 4.44-second 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he has apparently shed 20 pounds since rookie camp, according to a tweet earlier this week, which could enable him to play up to his timed speed and emerge as a great playmaker on the outside of the Texans offense.

    It's unlikely any of those players will provide the same level of impact in 2015 that Johnson consistently has over the past 12 seasons. But with all three of them on the roster in addition to Hopkins, Keshawn Martin, fifth-round pick Keith Mumphery and others, the Texans have strong depth at the wide receiver position.

Indianapolis Colts: How to Get Phillip Dorsett in the Wide Receiver Lineup

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    Phillip Dorsett is making an early impression with the Indianapolis Colts.
    Phillip Dorsett is making an early impression with the Indianapolis Colts.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Because the Indianapolis Colts did not have a significant need at the wide receiver position, their decision to select Phillip Dorsett with the No. 29 overall pick in this year's draft was widely questioned. But if they can find a way to get the lightning-fast playmaker regularly involved in the offense, Dorsett could prove to be a great luxury to have.

    With T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson entrenched as starters, Dorsett is set to compete with Donte Moncrief in training camp to be the No. 3 wide receiver. That's not a job that will simply be given to Dorsett, as Moncrief, a 2014 third-round pick, is a similarly fast wideout who demonstrated big upside in limited action as a rookie.

    Even so, Dorsett appears ready to make a serious push for a role in the offense in training camp. He received rave reviews throughout spring workouts and "is going to cut into somebody's playing time this season," according to Mike Chappell of Indy Sports Central.

    Considering the Colts also have two good tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, they are unlikely to use four-wide receiver sets with high frequency. So if Indianapolis is going to get a frequent impact out of Dorsett on offense in 2015, it's going to have to be creative or push Moncrief down the depth chart.

    Of course, that's not a bad problem to have. Given that the Colts had more passing attempts than any other team in the NFL last season, it's important for them to have a multitude of pass-catchers available.

    At the very least, Dorsett will provide a depth option with high upside and a player whom defenses will have to account for, because of his speed, every time he steps on the field.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Multiple Battles to Start on Interior Offensive Line

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    Zane Beadles and A.J. Cann will be going to head-to-head with each other for the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting left guard job.
    Zane Beadles and A.J. Cann will be going to head-to-head with each other for the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting left guard job.John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have a solid returning veteran starter at the left guard position in Zane Beadles and a second-year center in Luke Bowanko who performed surprisingly adequately as a rookie starter last year. But the Jaguars will have to make decisions on whether Beadles and Bowanko are their best starting options on the interior offensive line after drafting A.J. Cann and signing Stefen Wisniewski this offseason.

    Cann, the Jaguars' third-round pick, is a technically sound guard who was a four-year starter at South Carolina and is as ready to play as any offensive lineman in this year's rookie class. With Brandon Linder locked in at right guard after an outstanding rookie season of his own last year, the draft selection of Cann signals that Beadles could be on the hot seat (and potentially on the trade block).

    Wisniewski, who started 61 games in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, would probably be a short-term upgrade over Bowanko in the middle of the offensive line. That said, his one-year, $2.5 million deal is more characteristic of a player signed to be an insurance policy than one who was signed to start.

    As it would appear that Cann, Bowanko and Linder are the Jaguars' interior offensive line of the future, it is likely the young guns will get every opportunity to win those jobs this summer. Ultimately, the battles could come down to how much progress the young players are able to make and whether they can legitimately beat out their more established veteran counterparts.

    Either way, the Jaguars will have great depth options, assuming they keep Beadles and Wisniewski on the roster. Regardless of which players win the starting jobs, the Jaguars will have two backups on the bench they can confidently turn to if injuries occur.

Kansas City Chiefs: Finding a Role for Second-Year Pass-Rusher Dee Ford

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    The Chiefs need to find a way to unleash Dee Ford's pass-rushing ability this season.
    The Chiefs need to find a way to unleash Dee Ford's pass-rushing ability this season.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Stuck behind two of the NFL's best 3-4 outside linebackers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford played just 122 snaps on the Kansas City Chiefs defense last year, according to Pro Football Focus. With Houston just re-signed to a six-year contract last week, Ford appears to be in the same situation going into his sophomore season.

    Looking forward to the future, the Chiefs appear to be in a great position at outside linebacker, with one of the NFL's elite defensive players locked up on a long-term contract and Ford waiting in the wings to potentially replace Hali in 2016, as Hali's contract voids after this year.

    Even so, Ford is too talented—and has too much invested in him—to be relegated to minimal playing time on defense again this year. While his lack of playing time might have had as much to do with his own struggles to get acclimated to the NFL as it did the talent in front of him, the Chiefs should look to make him a more regular factor within their defensive rotation this year.

    Ideally, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will find ways to get Houston, Hali and Ford all on the field at the same time in pass-rushing situations—as he was expected to do last season. As Houston is arguably the best pass-rusher in the NFL, and Hali is very good at generating pressure himself, there's not much upside to taking either one of them off the field in favor of Ford.

    With that being said, it is likely Hali will rotate out with Ford in a more regular capacity this year. Hali recently told SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Joel Thorman of Arrowhead Pride) that the Chiefs gave him "a lot of reps off in OTAs and allowed [Ford] to get more reps under his belt."

    While Hali has yet to show any signs of slowing down significantly, he is set to turn 32 years old this season, so it could be to his benefit if the Chiefs give him increased rest this season. Either way, Kansas City will be in good position to continue putting heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks thanks to its three-headed rotation at the outside linebacker position.

Miami Dolphins: What Will DeVante Parker's Role Be When He Returns from Injury?

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    After a strong start to spring workouts, DeVante Parker has been set back by a foot injury.
    After a strong start to spring workouts, DeVante Parker has been set back by a foot injury.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    As the No. 14 overall pick in this year's draft, DeVante Parker would have been the odds-on favorite to emerge as the Miami Dolphins' No. 1 wide receiver this season if he was healthy going into training camp. The outlook for his rookie year looks a little murkier, however, after he was forced to undergo foot surgery in early June.

    Parker's agent, James Gould, told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald earlier this month that "everything is perfect" in the wide receiver's recovery from injury and "he remains on track to play in the regular-season opener." As James Walker of ESPN.com wrote in June, though, Parker probably won't open the season as a starter if he misses the entirety of training camp and the preseason.

    "Miami's three-way race for two starting jobs at receiver was very close," Walker wrote. "Parker began the spring on the second team behind veteran receivers Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills. Even if Parker was healthy throughout the summer, there was no guarantee the rookie would supplant either veteran in time for the regular season."

    Jennings and Stills, who both joined the Dolphins this offseason, were starters with their previous teams and project as the best options to open the season as the outside receivers in the first-team offense. Second-year wideout Jarvis Landry, meanwhile, is locked in as the slot receiver, while he could also start ahead of either Jennings or Stills in two-receiver sets.

    Because Parker is unlikely to have an opportunity to work his way up the depth chart in training camp, he will probably open the season as the No. 4 wide receiver.

    That's not to say Parker won't have a role within the offense. The tall, acrobatic wide receiver "was dazzling in offseason workouts," according to Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel, and is simply too talented not to be a part of the game plan once he is healthy.

    The dilemma for the Dolphins is figuring out just how large that role will be without having the opportunity to evaluate his development throughout the summer. But the fact they have enough talent at the wide receiver position without Parker in the lineup means they could have a top-notch group of pass-catchers once he establishes himself within it.

Minnesota Vikings: Keeping Jerick McKinnon Involved in the Offense

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    As Adrian Peterson returns to lead the Vikings at running back, Jerick McKinnon could be left to stand back and watch.
    As Adrian Peterson returns to lead the Vikings at running back, Jerick McKinnon could be left to stand back and watch.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    With Adrian Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list for the Minnesota Vikings' final 15 games of last season, rookie running back Jerick McKinnon took advantage. The No. 96 overall pick in the 2014 draft, McKinnon ended up starting six games and rushing for 538 yards on 113 carries while adding 135 yards on 27 receptions.

    With Peterson back on the active roster and firmly set to be the feature back this year, and having just restructured his contract for more guaranteed money earlier this week, McKinnon will no longer see regular playing time at the running back position. So long as Peterson returns to his old form after being forced to sit out nearly an entire season, he will be a three-down back in the Minnesota offense.

    McKinnon, who is better suited to be a complementary running back option than an every-down runner, is a great option for the Vikings to have at No. 2 on the depth chart. With his speed and shiftiness, he can provide a change of pace for the Minnesota offense at times and enable the team to keep Peterson fresh while also offering a strong depth option in case of injury.

    But since McKinnon will likely see no more than a handful of carries from the running back spot so long as Peterson is healthy, the Vikings will need to be creative for McKinnon to play an integral role in their 2015 offense.

    Given that McKinnon is a spectacular athlete who played a multitude of positions as a collegiate player at Georgia Southern, the Vikings should work him into the offense. Situationally, he offers enough receiving ability to line up as a slot receiver, while he could even be effective in a Wildcat package from the quarterback spot.

    As the Vikings have an emerging young signal-caller in Teddy Bridgewater and a solid corps of talent already at wide receiver, it might be unnecessary to experiment with McKinnon playing additional roles. Nonetheless, the versatility and big-play ability he offers makes him a dangerous weapon, albeit one that might remain mostly hidden in 2015.

New England Patriots: What Will Jabaal Sheard's Role Be?

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    Jabaal Sheard can count on the New England Patriots finding ways to get him involved in their defense.
    Jabaal Sheard can count on the New England Patriots finding ways to get him involved in their defense.Uncredited/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots have a terrific tandem of starting edge defenders in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who have virtually never left the field in recent years so long as they have been healthy. The Patriots might have to start using a more regular rotation on the edge of their multi-front defense, however, if they intend to get free-agent addition Jabaal Sheard regularly involved.

    Signing Sheard to add depth at defensive end/outside linebacker made sense, especially considering Jones was hampered by a hip injury for much of last season. It would seem, though, that the Patriots see Sheard as more than just a backup, given that they are set to pay him $11 million over the next two seasons.

    As the most creative defensive mind in the NFL, Patriots coach Bill Belichick likely sees this as an opportunity more than a dilemma. While Jones and Ninkovich typically play every down, that does not mean they play the same position all the time, as the Patriots tend to move players around each week in their ever-changing hybrid defense.

    Even so, they will have to make decisions about how to work Sheard into the rotation, especially considering they also drafted three edge defenders in third-round pick Geneo Grissom, fourth-round pick Trey Flowers and seventh-round pick Xzavier Dickson.

    On one hand, the Patriots have more puzzle pieces they can use to institute new defensive looks. On the other hand, there could be limited playing time to go around for the deep stable of pass-rushers.

    For the rookies, that likely means snaps will be hard to come by in 2015 unless the veterans get hurt. For Sheard, though, the Patriots will work to come up with varying alignments—whether that means shifting Jones or Sheard inside or moving Ninkovich into an off-ball linebacker role—that enable them to get all three players on the field in pass-rushing situations.

New Orleans Saints: Should Andrus Peat Start as a Rookie?

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    Andrus Peat appears likely to begin his NFL career as a backup.
    Andrus Peat appears likely to begin his NFL career as a backup.Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Presumably, the New Orleans Saints didn't draft Andrus Peat with the No. 13 overall pick with the idea that the former Stanford offensive tackle would be a backup on the offensive line for long. Going into training camp, however, it's uncertain where he might factor into the starting lineup in 2015, if at all.

    While Peat is a long-limbed offensive tackle who has the potential to develop into a great player at the position, the Saints already have quality starters on both sides of the line in left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Zach Strief.

    The weak link on the offensive line would appear to be at left guard, where Tim Lelito is projected to take over as a starter after the team traded Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason. Even so, Saints coach Sean Payton reportedly said during the draft that he does not expect Armstead, Strief or Peat to move to guard this season, according to Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune.

    "I don't see that initially," Payton said. "Terron and Zach, shoot, one's a veteran, experienced, tremendous leader for us at right tackle. The other one is a real sharp and talented left tackle. Andrus will come in and I'm sure we'll give him reps at both positions."

    It is possible Peat could end up beating Strief out for the right tackle job. In May, Strief acknowledged it is probably only a matter of time before that change occurs.

    "He's taking my job eventually," Strief told Joel A. Erickson of the Advocate, adding, "My job and my role is to make that take as long as possible."

    Given his draft standing, Peat should get a shot to compete at one position or another to start in 2015. Replacing Strief this year might not be a move that is in the best interest of the Saints, however, as Strief has been ranked as one of the NFL's top 20 offensive tackles for two straight years by Pro Football Focus.

    Either way, the Saints will have a strong swing tackle option who can step in if either of the starters gets hurt. And should they choose to start cross-training Peat or Strief at guard during training camp, their first-round draft selection could improve their depth—or even give them a replacement option if Lelito struggles—inside as well.

New York Giants: Shane Vereen vs. Rashad Jennings vs. Andre Williams

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    Both new additions to the New York Giants during the 2014 offseason, running backs Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings split a vast majority of the rushing attempts last season. Williams ran for 721 yards and seven touchdowns on 217 carries as a rookie, while Jennings, in his sixth NFL season, accumulated 639 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 167 attempts.

    Neither Jennings nor Williams was spectacular in 2014, but both performed well enough to figure to continue to have a significant role in the backfield in 2015. The competition for carries will be steep in the Big Apple this summer, however, after the Giants added another running back, Shane Vereen, to the mix this spring.

    Vereen, who comes to the Giants after four seasons with the New England Patriots, is at his best as a receiver out of the backfield and projects as a change-of-pace back for the offense. With that being said, NJ.com's Jordan Raanan indicated multiple times during spring workouts that Vereen appears to be in line for a big role with his new team.

    "Get ready for a lot of Shane Vereen, the versatile running back signed as a free agent this offseason," Raanan wrote at the conclusion of minicamp. "Vereen seemed to find his way onto the field constantly and was catching pass after pass. He's not just going to be a third-down back."

    Vereen was used as both a running back and as a wide receiver in New England, and it is likely the Giants will experiment with splitting him out wide as well. But even though that could enable them to get another running back on the field, it could be difficult for the Giants to keep three runners regularly involved in the offense.

    Vereen clearly offers the most to the offense in the passing game, while Williams offers the least. Ultimately, though, the Giants will have to make a decision this summer as to whether Williams or Jennings offers more as a between-the-tackles runner in early-down situations.

    One way the running back rotation could stack up is for Jennings to handle most of the early-down running work, Vereen to play in most passing situations and Williams—the most powerful back of the trio—to take on short-yardage and goal-line work. But regardless of how it ultimately shakes out, the Giants will have comfortable depth at the running back position while being able to keep each of the three backs fresh so long as all three are healthy.

New York Jets: Where Will Leonard Williams Play When Sheldon Richardson Returns?

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    Leonard Williams might only see limited playing time once Sheldon Richardson returns from a four-game suspension.
    Leonard Williams might only see limited playing time once Sheldon Richardson returns from a four-game suspension.RICH SCHULTZ/Associated Press

    Widely considered the best non-quarterback prospect in the 2015 NFL draft, Leonard Williams was simply too good for the New York Jets to pass up when he fell to the No. 6 overall pick. Whether there will be a regular role for him to play in the defense during the final 12 games of the 2015 season, however, is uncertain.

    In the Jets' 3-4 defensive scheme, Williams projects perfectly to playing the defensive end position. That will likely block him out from being a full-time starter in 2015, however, because the Jets already have two of the NFL's best players at that position in Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson.

    For the first four weeks of the season, Williams could prove to be the solution to what would have been a much more negative dilemma. With Richardson set to serve a quarter-season suspension for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, the addition of Williams should enable the Jets to replace Richardson in the lineup without a drastic drop-off in quality.

    Looking forward to 2016, Williams projects to be a replacement for Wilkerson, who is likely to depart the team as a free agent next offseason after a contract dispute this spring.

    Between Weeks 6-17 of this season, however, things could really get interesting. If Williams gets the season off to a hot start in place of Richardson, the Jets are going to have to find ways to continue getting their rookie defensive end on the field.

    At the least, the surplus of talent at defensive end should enable the Jets to keep all three players fresh, as they can rotate each player in and out of the game assuming all three are healthy. But if they really want to take advantage of all that talent, new defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers is going to need to come up with packages that get Richardson, Wilkerson and Williams on the field at the same time.

    It's not an ideal circumstance for Williams, whose chances of winning Defensive Rookie of the Year could be curbed if his playing time is limited. For the Jets, though, the addition of Williams to a starting trio of Wilkerson, Richardson and nose tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison makes their defensive line one of the NFL's most formidable.

Oakland Raiders: Clive Walford vs. Mychal Rivera

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    Mychal Rivera could be set to fade into the background as Clive Walford makes a run at the Oakland Raiders' starting tight end job.
    Mychal Rivera could be set to fade into the background as Clive Walford makes a run at the Oakland Raiders' starting tight end job.Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    As their roster remains thin on talent at most positions, the Oakland Raiders do not have many dilemmas that can be considered positive. There are many positions at which they have only one legitimate starting option and reason to be concerned about their depth.

    One position where the Raiders do have at least two legitimate starting options is tight end. While free-agent addition Lee Smith should only play in a limited role as a situational run-blocker, third-round draft pick Clive Walford is set to compete with incumbent starter Mychal Rivera in training camp to be the No. 1 player at the position.

    On a team that was starved for pass-catching talent last season, Rivera was quietly one of the best playmakers, catching 58 passes for 534 yards and four touchdowns. He should continue to have at least a part-time role within the passing offense this year.

    That said, Walford has the talent to be an immediate upgrade. So far, he appears to be on track to unseating Rivera from the lineup.

    "The third-round pick from Miami was terrific during OTAs and in the minicamps," ESPN.com's Bill Williamson wrote in June. "The tight end stretched the field. He showed terrific hands and speed, especially for a big man. If Walford continues to shine in training camp, I'd expect him to beat out third-year incumbent Mychal Rivera for the starting job."

    Both skilled as a receiver and bigger and stronger as a blocker than Rivera, Walford (6'4", 250 lbs) could make this no real dilemma at all if he has a strong summer. While Rivera was solid as a receiver last season, he graded out as the worst run-blocking tight end in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Nonetheless, the tight end position is one at which the Raiders can feel good about their options. The competition between those options this summer should bring out the best in each player.

Philadelphia Eagles: Determining Starters at Inside Linebacker

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    Mychal Kendricks (95) and DeMeco Ryans (59) could be competing with each other for a starting job in Philadelphia this summer.
    Mychal Kendricks (95) and DeMeco Ryans (59) could be competing with each other for a starting job in Philadelphia this summer.Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles already had a strong starting tandem at inside linebacker with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks before they acquired Kiko Alonso in March.

    Making the depth chart even more loaded at the position, the Eagles added another inside linebacker to the roster, Jordan Hicks, with their third-round pick in this year's draft.

    Hicks does not project to be a serious candidate to earn a starting job at the position as a rookie. He will likely spend his rookie year playing primarily on special teams. The competition between Alonso, Kendricks and Ryans, however, could force the Eagles to make a tough decision in leaving one player out of the lineup.

    Assuming Alonso has no ill effects from the torn ACL he suffered last July, he will more than likely take over one of the starting jobs. It's hard to imagine the Eagles would have given up LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing just two seasons ago, if they did not expect Alonso, the 2013 PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year, to be a full-time starter.

    Between the other two, Kendricks projects as the favorite to remain on the first-team defense. Kendricks, who Pro Football Focus graded as the NFL's sixth-best inside linebacker last season, is a rangier player than Ryans, who is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon and is set to turn 31 years old.

    "I'm not making their lineup for them, but I think you have to go with Alonso and Kendricks," an anonymous personnel executive told Mark Eckel of NJ.com. "DeMeco is getting a little older; he's coming off an injury. At this point he's probably a real good mentor for the other two."

    As Eckel noted, Ryans is a highly valued leader of the Eagles defense, so he should put up a significant fight to keep his job. It's also possible, given Chip Kelly's proven willingness to make surprising personnel moves, that the Eagles could trade Kendricks, whom the Eagles reportedly tried to deal for a second-round pick during the draft, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

    Nothing can be ruled out with Kelly calling the shots, but considering the high asking price for Kendricks, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, it would be a surprise if he is traded at this point. That leaves the Eagles with a tough decision to make for their defensive starting lineup but also a terrific inside linebacker rotation with great depth.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Keeping Sean Spence Involved on Defense

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    Sean Spence will have to compete for playing time again this summer after a great comeback season in 2014.
    Sean Spence will have to compete for playing time again this summer after a great comeback season in 2014.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    After Sean Spence severely injured his knee during a preseason game in 2012, it was believed the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker might never return to the NFL. Keith Butler, then the linebackers coach of the Steelers, told reporters in April 2013 that it would be "miraculous" if Spence was able to make a comeback.

    Do you believe in miracles? Spence apparently did. After being sidelined for two full seasons, he returned to the field for the Steelers last season and not only played but performed well—so well, in fact, that he seized a starting job at inside linebacker after Ryan Shazier went down with injury and held the job even when Shazier returned to action late in the year.

    Granted, Spence did lose many of his snaps to Shazier upon the highly touted rookie's return to action, and he is not expected to remain in front of Shazier on the linebacker depth chart this year. Shazier, the No. 15 overall pick in the 2014 draft, is a tremendous athlete who needs to prove he can stay healthy but will be expected to emerge as a star of the defense in 2015.

    With Lawrence Timmons entrenched in the other starting inside linebacker spot, Spence is set to move back to a backup role this upcoming season. Even so, the Steelers should work hard to find ways to get him on the field, considering how valiantly Spence defied expectations to come back and provide solid play last season.

    Whether there will be regular playing time available on defense remains to be seen. The Steelers will expect Shazier to emerge as an every-down player this season, given the investment they made in him last offseason. Timmons, meanwhile, has consistently played at a high level while being a mainstay on the field for the past six seasons.

    If Shazier fails to live up to expectations, the door could open for Spence to steal at least some of his playing time. If it does not, the Steelers can feel good about having Spence to provide depth at inside linebacker—especially considering that prior to last season, they didn't feel good about whether he would ever contribute.

San Diego Chargers: Keeping Backup Running Backs Involved in Offense

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    Despite defying expectations as an undrafted rookie last year, Branden Oliver might not be get to play much in 2015.
    Despite defying expectations as an undrafted rookie last year, Branden Oliver might not be get to play much in 2015.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    As Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead went down with injuries last season, the San Diego Chargers took on a true running-back-by-committee approach, with undrafted rookie Branden Oliver and free-agent addition Donald Brown stepping in to fill their roles within the backfield. But while all of those running backs except Mathews remain in the fold for 2015, the addition of first-round draft pick Melvin Gordon could relegate all of them to minimal work.

    If the Chargers didn't envision Gordon being a true feature back in their offense, they wouldn't have traded up to the No. 15 overall pick to select him. An explosive running threat who is coming off a 2,587-yard, 29-touchdown season at Wisconsin last year, Gordon has the talent to quickly emerge as the best tailback in San Diego since LaDainian Tomlinson.

    As discussed with the Buffalo Bills early in the slideshow, the rest of the Chargers' deep stable of running backs could now be hard-pressed to get on the field, which could even lead to San Diego's having to cut one of them.

    The one backup running back who should still have a role in the offense this season, assuming he is fully recovered from the broken fibula he suffered last September, is Woodhead. While he is unlikely to receive significant carries with Gordon leading the running game, he is likely to spell Gordon in some passing situations. Woodhead is an excellent pass-catcher and pass protector—two areas in which Gordon needs to improve.

    Oliver, who led the Chargers with 160 carries for 582 yards and three touchdowns, performed well enough last season that he should at least have a safe roster spot as the third-string running back. He probably won't get many opportunities to run the ball this season unless injuries strike in front of him once again, though.

    The toughest decision for the Chargers could come with Brown, who averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in his first season with the team. Getting him on the field should not be a priority for San Diego, given his poor performance last year, but keeping him around for veteran depth—at a cap hit of more than $4 million—is questionable at this point.

    The good news for the Chargers is they finally have a feature back—one who hopefully will not be hit with the injury bug that plagued Mathews throughout his years with the team—and strong depth behind him, regardless of whether they keep Brown in the fold.

San Francisco 49ers: Finding a Role for Second-Round Pick Jaquiski Tartt

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    After the San Francisco 49ers lost a plethora of players to retirements and free agency this offseason, one might have expected they would strictly focus on filling needs with their early-round picks in this year's draft. Instead, they used their second-round pick on a strong safety, Jaquiski Tartt, who has no clear path to an immediate role within the defense.

    The 49ers lost a multitude of key players on defense this spring—inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, defensive end Justin Smith and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox chief among them—and their subsequent drafting did reflect that, as they used each of their picks in the first three rounds to select defensive prospects.

    The addition of Tartt, however, did not appear to plug any of those holes. As the 49ers already have a solid starter at strong safety in Antoine Bethea, San Francisco will have to be creative for Tartt to make a regular impact in 2015.

    It is possible Tartt, a big, hard-hitting safety at 6'1" and 221 pounds, could be used as a hybrid linebacker in nickel/dime sub-packages. That might be the ideal way to get Tartt involved in the defense as a rookie, given that he does his best work in the box and could need some time to get accustomed to the NFL before he takes on a regular role in deep coverage.

    As he has the athleticism and versatility to play free safety if needed, Tartt does give the 49ers a strong insurance option should injuries strike in front of him at the position. The potential for that to become relevant is somewhat high, since free safety Eric Reid has already suffered three concussions in two NFL seasons and has hinted that another concussion could provoke him to retire, as reported by Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Additionally, Tartt has a skill set that is favorable to him emerging as a special teams standout if he plays consistently on kickoff and punt coverage teams in his rookie season.

    Tartt's value as a depth player and on special teams could go a long way toward justifying the 49ers' decision to select him in Round 2. Considering how much the team lost in terms of defensive talent this offseason, it really needs to get as much out of Tartt as it possibly can this year.

Seattle Seahawks: Is Christine Michael Worth Keeping on the Roster?

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    Despite great measurables, Christine Michael is no lock to make the Seahawks roster this season.
    Despite great measurables, Christine Michael is no lock to make the Seahawks roster this season.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Hyped up by measurables enthusiasts ever since he posted otherworldly numbers at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, Christine Michael enticed the Seattle Seahawks to draft him in Round 2 in 2013 despite an underwhelming collegiate career at Texas A&M.

    But while he has exceptional explosiveness and agility for a 5'10", 222-pound back—numbers that graded him out as the most athletic player in the 2013 draft class, according to a formula devised by Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle—it has yet to translate into any significant production on the field.

    Because of that, Michael could be a candidate for trade or release this summer. While he is projected to be the third-string running back if he remains on the roster, ESPN.com's Terry Blount reported that the Seahawks coaching staff is high on Thomas Rawls, an undrafted rookie from Central Michigan whom head coach Pete Carroll sees "as a bruising runner similar to [starting running back Marshawn] Lynch."

    "That's not good news for Michael," Blount wrote. "He needs to do everything right in camp or he might find his days in Seattle have ended. Maybe the Seahawks could trade him for a late-round pick if they decide Rawls is the better option."

    The positive spin on the dilemma with Michael is the Seahawks are only in a position to potentially trade or cut Michael because they have a terrific pair of backs in front of him with Lynch, who takes the lion's share of carries in the Seattle backfield, and Robert Turbin, another big, powerful back who is a reliable second-stringer.

    While Michael has not been productive in Seattle, that's not to say he's been bad. In 52 carries over two seasons, he has averaged an impressive clip of 4.9 yards per carry. He simply has not had an opportunity—and perhaps never will in Seattle—to prove he can be productive with consistency.

    If the Seahawks keep Michael around, they will still have arguably the most talented—at least in terms of upside—third-string running back in the NFL. If they decide to trade him and can get something in return, that will be thanks to the fact they have great talent at the position in front of him.

St. Louis Rams: Determining Roles for Rotational Defensive Linemen

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    A strong defensive line rotation got even stronger this offseason with the St. Louis Rams' addition of Nick Fairley.
    A strong defensive line rotation got even stronger this offseason with the St. Louis Rams' addition of Nick Fairley.Uncredited/Associated Press

    The St. Louis Rams very well might have the best defensive line depth chart of any team in the NFL. While they have a terrific starting front four of defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long plus defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, they also have a great group of rotational options that include offseason free-agent addition Nick Fairley at defensive tackle and returning veterans William Hayes and Eugene Sims at defensive end.

    St. Louis can feel confident it has a defensive line that will generate pressure in the trenches, hold stout against the run and be well prepared for any injuries that might occur. The only problem the Rams face with their defensive front, assuming everyone stays healthy, is finding ways to get all of their defensive line talent involved in the rotation.

    When Long missed 10 games last season with an ankle injury, Hayes stepped in and performed well as a starter in his absence, especially as a run defender. Both Hayes and Sims, meanwhile, saw playing time inside as well as outside, as they were often utilized as situational rushers in passing situations in place of Brockers, who's at his best as a run defender.

    Those opportunities might come fewer and farther between for both Hayes and Sims this year, as Fairley will fill that role as the situational pass-rusher off the bench inside.

    That said, the Rams employed heavy rotations with their defensive line last season even when everyone was healthy and even with Quinn and Donald, their stars on the unit. So while it will be a challenge for St. Louis to get regular playing time for all of its deserving defensive linemen, the Rams should continue to give all of them opportunities to make at least some impact.

    Ultimately, the Rams should turn their surplus of defensive line talent into an advantage, as it will enable them to be creative with their alignments and keep their starters fresh over the course of a game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: More Talent at Tight End Than Available Roles?

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    After a year with the New England Patriots, Tim Wright is back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
    After a year with the New England Patriots, Tim Wright is back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    After selecting Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round of last year's draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick to the New England Patriots for left guard Logan Mankins, taking advantage of their surplus at the tight end position.

    When the Patriots cut Wright this offseason, the Buccaneers took advantage of their No. 1 spot in the waiver order to bring him back, giving them great depth at the tight end position once again.

    Despite a disappointing, injury-plagued rookie year, Seferian-Jenkins is locked in as the starting tight end for 2015. He is widely believed to be primed for a breakout year and was reportedly both healthy and "virtually uncoverable" during the team's offseason workout program, according to Mark Cook of PewterReport.com.

    Beyond Seferian-Jenkins is where things will get interesting. Between Wright, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker, the Buccaneers will have to determine what roles each could play and whether there is room to keep all three of them on the roster.

    Myers started six games for the Buccaneers last season and has started multiple games in each of his six NFL seasons, but there is really no aspect of his game that is better than average. His versatility and his veteran experience might be the redeeming qualities that keep him on the roster.

    Stocker offers virtually nothing as a receiver, but he is the best in-line blocking tight end on the roster. Nearly the opposite is true for Wright, who is more of an oversized wideout than a true tight end, as he has the athleticism to stretch the field as a pass-catcher but does not offer much blocking ability.

    If the Buccaneers decide to keep only three tight ends, that decision will likely come down to Myers and Wright. Do they want the more well-rounded player (Myers) or the one with more big-play potential (Wright)? Regardless of whether the Buccaneers keep three or four tight ends on their 53-man roster, the position projects to be one of the strongest on the depth chart.

Tennessee Titans: Who Should Start at Wide Receiver?

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    Dorial Green-Beckham is among the wide receivers competing to start for the Tennessee Titans this summer.
    Dorial Green-Beckham is among the wide receivers competing to start for the Tennessee Titans this summer.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Needing to spruce up what had been an underwhelming depth chart at wide receiver, the Tennessee Titans signed Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks as free agents this offseason and then selected Dorial Green-Beckham in the second round and Tre McBride in the seventh round of this year's NFL draft.

    Now, with five, if not six, wide receivers who have the potential to be impact players this year, the Titans have to decide who should start at the position and how the depth chart should stack up behind the starters.

    Kendall Wright, the leading wide receiver on the Titans last season with 57 catches for 715 yards and six touchdowns, should retain his role as the No. 1 wideout. The starting spot opposite Wright, however, looks as though it could be wide open.

    The Titans' other prominent returning wideout, Justin Hunter, was projected to go into training camp as the most likely candidate to be the No. 2 receiver. That might have changed earlier this week when he was arrested and charged with felonious assault.

    Tennessee expects Hunter to be at training camp, according to ESPN's Ed Werder, so he could still be in the mix for a starting job. That said, he also might have already been on the roster bubble, having been a disappointment through his first two NFL seasons, so it's possible he might not even make the roster at all, while he could also face discipline from the league for violating the personal conduct policy.

    Fortunately for the Titans, they added enough talent this offseason to survive without Hunter if he is suspended or released.

    Green-Beckham (6'5", 237 lbs), though he has an ugly off-field history of his own, has a tremendous combination of size and athleticism that could set him apart in the competition to start. Nicks is coming off a disappointing single season with the Indianapolis Colts, but he is a physical wideout who has 65 career starts in six NFL seasons.

    Douglas is a solid veteran who is best suited to work as the No. 3/slot receiver but could be elevated to start on the outside if need be. And while McBride is a long shot to be a regular contributor this year, the William & Mary product is an intriguing athlete who could prove to be a hidden gem.

    There's nothing positive about the Hunter situation, which leaves the Titans with a more questionable outlook at the wide receiver position than they had a few days ago. Nonetheless, they can still feel good about their additions to their receiving corps this spring, knowing they will have plenty of talent competing to catch passes from new quarterback Marcus Mariota this summer.

Washington Redskins: Trent Murphy vs. Preston Smith

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    Preston Smith will attempt to win a starting job on the Washington Redskins defense as a rookie.
    Preston Smith will attempt to win a starting job on the Washington Redskins defense as a rookie.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    In each of the past two drafts, the Washington Redskins have used a second-round pick on an outside linebacker. Those two early Day 2 selections—second-year player Trent Murphy and rookie Preston Smith—are now set to compete for a starting spot in the Redskins' 3-4 defense in training camp.

    Murphy started eight games last season after then-starter Brian Orakpo went down with an injury, and he performed well in Orakpo's stead. While he did not exhibit much explosiveness as a pass-rusher, he did a great job of setting the edge and holding his ground as a run defender.

    With Orakpo's departure for the Tennessee Titans this offseason, Murphy is in line to retain the starting job opposite Ryan Kerrigan. To keep hold of it, he's going to have to beat out Smith in competition this summer.

    A versatile defender, Smith could end up seeing playing time at multiple spots within the defensive front seven but projects well as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Like Murphy, Smith lacks the top-end explosiveness that is characteristic of an elite NFL pass-rusher, but he might prove to offer more quickness and more hand skill that could make him an upgrade over Murphy in that regard.

    ESPN.com's John Keim, a Redskins beat writer, believes Smith will eventually seize the starting gig from Murphy.

    "During the spring, Murphy looked further ahead and more comfortable. He should; he's been in the NFL for a year already," Keim wrote. "But the sense I've gotten is that Smith will ultimately be the starter."

    Realistically, it might not matter a great deal who earns the opportunity to start in Week 1. Either way, both players should see significant playing time, especially early in the year, as they will likely rotate in and out with each other.

    Nonetheless, the competition should bring out the best in both players, and if both perform up to expectations, they could give the Redskins a solid trio at the outside linebacker position in tandem with Kerrigan.

    Basic measurables and statistics courtesy of NFL.com and ESPN.com. Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Salary information courtesy of Spotrac.

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.


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