Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle
Roll up the sleeping bags.
Pack up the pup tents.
Load up the s'mores supplies.
It's time to go camping!
OK, that's a totally different kind of camping. And training camp won't begin in earnest in the NFL until July. But teams have already conducted their rookie minicamps. More OTAs will follow—some voluntary, others not so much.
The preparation for 2018 has begun.
As all 32 teams in the NFL get ready for training camp, all have one thing in common, whether it's the winless Cleveland Browns or the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
For every NFL team, there's a need that must be addressed. A hole that must be filled.
One looming camp battle that's more important than the all the rest.
Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback
Sam Bradford's gone from the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft to a player teams look to replace almost as soon as they acquire him.
One year after the Philadelphia Eagles traded for Bradford, the team moved up to draft Carson Wentz. Bradford was then dealt to the Minnesota Vikings, where he started 15 games in 2016 and two last year before going down with a knee injury.
This offseason, the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins, and Bradford was on the road again.
Now, the 30-year-old finds himself in Arizona, and it's fair to wonder if he'll even get one season as starter with the fourth team of his career.
The Redbirds moved up in Round 1 of the 2018 draft to select UCLA signal-caller Josh Rosen, and while speaking to Omar Ruiz of NFL Network, new Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks made it clear that Bradford's leash is as long as his performance dictates.
"We're pushing everybody to start," he said. "I've stated this several times: Sam Bradford's our starter. We've gotta go out there with 11 guys, and Sam's gonna be the first guy out there.
"But everybody's fighting for a position, so I'm not going to hold him back at all. I want guys competing. I want guys fighting for the starting job. Whoever ends up winning the position, that's who's gonna end up playing. "
The Cardinals were an eight-win team last year despite being ravaged by injuries. It's a team that can make some hay in 2018—if they get decent quarterback play.
Atlanta Falcons: Fullback
If you're looking for dramatic training camp battles for starting spots, Atlanta probably isn't the place to look. Sure, it will be interesting to see how quickly rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley picks up the NFL game and whether edge-rusher Takkarist McKinley is ready to take a big step forward in 2018, but the starting lineups on both sides of the ball are pretty much set.
With one exception.
The fullback position is going the way of the dinosaur and rotary phones. Many NFL teams no longer carry one at all. The Falcons had one of the best in the game during their Super Bowl run in Patrick DiMarco, but he left in free agency before the 2017 season.
His absence was felt, especially in short-yardage situations.
This isn't to say the Falcons made a big investment at the position. Stanford's Daniel Marx and Nebraska's Luke McNitt were both undrafted free agents. Marx blocked for Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love in Palo Alto. McNitt told Brian Christopherson of 247Sports that the absence of a fullback on Atlanta's roster is one of the things that attracted him to the team.
"They don't have a fullback on the roster right now, so I have a chance to come in and compete for a starting job," McNitt said. "I'm just all about making an active roster."
One of these youngsters will make the 53-man roster. The other's NFL career may be over before it begins.
Baltimore Ravens: Center
There are two players the Baltimore Ravens hope will touch the ball on every snap in 2018.
One is quarterback Joe Flacco. If we see rookie Lamar Jackson in games that count this season, it means something has gone wrong in Charm City.
The matter of who will be snapping Flacco (and possibly Jackson) the ball is much less certain after fifth-year pro Ryan Jensen left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.
Per Ryan Mink of the team's website, the early leader to start at center is Matt Skura, who made 12 starts at right guard in place of an injured Marshal Yanda last season. Skura's natural position is in the middle, and he told Mink he's looking forward to the opportunity to show what he can do in his second year.
"It's a really good opportunity for me to showcase to the coaches that I can be that leader on the offensive line and make the calls to direct guys where to go," Skura said. "I think that's the biggest thing for me."
Skura will be pushed by Alex Lewis, sixth-round rookie Bradley Bozeman and possibly Nico Siragusa, but head coach John Harbaugh would surely rather see this camp battle end early and emphatically.
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback
Of all the battles to start at quarterback in the NFL this summer, Buffalo's has to be the weirdest.
Sure, it's possible that rookie Josh Allen winning this duel could mean that the youngster tore up training camp and proved to be much more ready for the pro game than we believed.
The problem is that everything we've seen from the Wyoming quarterback indicates he isn't ready yet. He needs time to learn better mechanics and footwork and to work on progressing through his reads before delivering an accurate throw.
The more likely scenario, should Allen "win" the job, is that free-agent acquisition AJ McCarron lost it. McCarron showed some ability in starting four games (including a playoff game) for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015, but the Bengals didn't think twice about letting McCarron walk once he won his grievance and was declared an unrestricted free agent this spring.
In a perfect world, McCarron will play just well enough to hold Allen off and justify keeping the rookie on the bench while he develops.
We don't live in a perfect world though. And after making the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999, a rough start to the season isn't going to sit well with the fanbase.
Carolina Panthers: Wide Receiver
The Carolina Panthers' hole at wide receiver isn't new. Nor is 2018 the first time the team has tried to fill it.
Early draft picks Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess weren't failures, but neither was or is exactly a success. With Benjamin now in Buffalo, it's back to the old drawing board—with a familiar strategy.
The veteran/rookie two-step.
The experienced half of the fight to start opposite Funchess is eighth-year man Torrey Smith, who won a Super Bowl with the Eagles in 2017. The good news is Smith has a 1,000-yard season on his resume.
The bad news is it came in 2013—and he hasn't had even 800 yards since.
No. 24 pick D.J. Moore will push Smith in camp. The 6'0", 210-pounder may have the most athleticism and highest ceiling of any pass-catcher in the class, but like those of many first-year receivers, his route tree is a work in progress.
The best case is Moore shines and seizes the job. The worst is neither does and tailback Christian McCaffrey notches 221 three-yard catches in 2018.
Chicago Bears: Edge-Rusher
It's a time of great change in the Windy City. Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace was aggressive in the offseason in improving both the weapons around 23-year-old quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears defense.
There remains a looming question in the latter regard though.
With Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston all gone, the Bears need an edge-rusher opposite Leonard Floyd.
The hope is that will be Aaron Lynch, who joined the Bears in free agency after four years in San Francisco. Over his first two NFL seasons, Lynch amassed 12.5 sacks and showed considerable potential. However, over the last two seasons, Lynch's production fell off a cliff.
Two-and-a-half sacks in two seasons is, um, yeah.
If Lynch can't recapture past glories, the Bears may turn to rookie Kylie Fitts, who piled up seven sacks at Utah in 2015 before injuries ruined his last two years. Per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune, Fitts impressed at rookie minicamp.
"He's a kid that has a good motor," new Bears head coach Matt Nagy said of the 6'4", 253-pounder. "He can bend well, he accelerates well and then he has nice size, too. So really good kid that's putting it all together."
Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive End
It's no secret that Carlos Dunlap will fill one of the starting defensive end spots for the Cincinnati Bengals—just as it's no surprise that Dunlap's production has been down the past two years. He's also entering into a contract season.
The presumptive starter opposite Dunlap is 10th-year veteran Michael Johnson. Johnson's a steady pro who has piled up 44 career sacks. His 2017 sack total was the third-highest of his career. But that total was five, and Johnson's had over six in a season once.
A number of youngsters could push him. There's second-year pro Carl Lawson, who flashed pass-rushing chops with 8.5 sacks as a rookie. Fellow second-year player Jordan Willis, a third-rounder who made one start in 2017. And rookie Sam Hubbard, who the Bengals took on Day 2 this year after his standout career at Ohio State.
Lawson will see time as a nickel edge-rusher as well as snaps at "Sam" linebacker if last year was any indication. The question then becomes if Willis or Hubbard can impress enough in base sets to give Johnson a run for his money.
Cincy needs to maximize its up-front depth on defense if the team's going to get back into contention in the AFC North.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
There's little doubt what the biggest training camp battle in Cleveland is.
In one fashion or another, it's been going on for the past two decades.
Cleveland's never-ending search for a quality starting quarterback features a pair of new faces this year. As Mary Kay Cabot reported for Cleveland.com, head coach Hue Jackson insisted that the matter's already decided—veteran Tyrod Taylor will start for the Browns in Week 1.
"I'm not going to back off of this," he said. "We can keep writing this narrative; Tyrod Taylor's the starting quarterback of this football team, and that won't change."
The narrative Jackson mentioned is that No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield is nipping at Taylor's heels. And while Jackson can double down until the cows come home, pretending he isn't there doesn't change anything.
This isn't to say Taylor shouldn't start. The reason for acquiring him to begin with was as a "bridge" to a rookie (who turned out to be Mayfield).
But that rookie's in town because Taylor's a known commodity. A low-ceiling one at that.
If Mayfield shines and/or Taylor struggles in camp, Jackson will have a Grade A quarterback controversy on his hands.
Ignoring it would be a very Hue Jackson thing to do.
Dallas Cowboys: Wide Receiver
You may have heard, but the Dallas Cowboys are overhauling the wide receiver position.
They are officially in the post-Dez Bryant era.
Bryant's release was just one part of a flurry of activity at the position for Jerruh's boys this offseason. The team added a trio of veteran options in Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson. Two more wideouts joined via the draft in third-rounder Michael Gallup and sixth-rounder Cedrick Wilson.
The question is: Who slots where?
As Mike Fisher reported for 247Sports, the Cowboys apparently have a "hybrid" role in mind for Austin, the 2013 first-round pick who flamed out with the Rams. He'll spend time lined up in both the slot and the backfield as a "web back."
Sounds like a knockoff Spider-Man villain.
Assuming he can stay healthy, Hurns would appear an obvious choice for one starting spot, as he's the only receiver on the roster with a 1,000-yard season to his credit. However, that came in 2015, and Hurns has missed 11 games in the two years since.
That leaves one spot up for grabs between holdover Terrance Williams, Thompson (a six-year pro who posted a 38-catch, 555-yard, two-TD stat line in Buffalo and Chicago in 2017) and Gallup (a 6'1", 205-pounder who caught 100 passes for 1,418 yards at Colorado State last year).
Denver Broncos: Running Back
The Denver Broncos hope they have addressed the quarterback position (at least in the short term) with the addition of Case Keenum. The 30-year-old has a number of passing-game weapons at his disposal in Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and rookie Courtland Sutton.
The run game is much more uncertain.
With C.J. Anderson gone, there'll be a new lead back in Denver. Third-year pro Devontae Booker has piled up over 250 carries for the Broncos the last two years combined, but he hasn't done a lot with them—averaging 3.6 yards a rush.
DeAngelo Henderson averaged 6.5 yards a carry in two preseason contests last year, but he touched the ball just nine times in games that counted.
The tentative front-runner may be rookie Royce Freeman, who averaged six yards a carry and piled up 1,475 rushing yards for the Oregon Ducks in 2017—his fourth straight season of over 1,000 total yards.
Both holdovers have had issues with fumbling. Freeman carried the ball a ton in college and showed it later in his Oregon career.
And this battle won't be resolved until well into the preseason.
Detroit Lions: Front 7
There isn't an NFL team with a harder position battle to peg than the Detroit Lions' pass rush.
Partly, that's due to schematic questions. We still don't know how Matt Patricia's new defense will shake out in Motown. During his time with the New England Patriots, Patricia was known for featuring multiple fronts and myriad looks.
Camp's going to be mighty interesting in Detroit.
There's also the matter of who'll rush the quarterback in which scheme. Detroit's list of proven pass-rushers is short.
There's Ziggy Ansah and…well…
Can defensive end Kerry Hyder bounce back from the Achilles tear that wiped out his 2017 season? Can outside linebackers Devon Kennard, Jalen Reeves-Maybin or Jonathan Freeny get a push off the edge when the Lions utilize a 3-4 scheme?
Unless a surprise player comes from nowhere to seize control of a spot as a complement to Ansah, there's going to be a lot of rotation in Detroit's front seven.
And a lot of double-teams for Ansah.
Green Bay Packers: Cornerback
In 2017, the Green Bay Packers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. An injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' collarbone was the down year's biggest cause, but Green Bay's 23rd-ranked pass defense didn't do the Packers any favors.
That pass defense got a major overhaul in the offseason.
First, general manager Brian Gutekunst brought back a pair of familiar faces. Tramon Williams spent the first nine seasons of his career in Titletown before three years in Cleveland and Arizona. Davon House re-signed for the second year of his second stint with the Pack after a siesta in Jacksonville.
There's a youth movement afoot as well. For the second straight season, the Packers used significant early draft capital on the secondary. In 2017, it was cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones. This year it's corners Jaire Alexander of Louisville and Joshua Jackson of Iowa.
At 6'3", King's the biggest of the lot and the front-runner for one of the outside jobs. The rest isn't so certain—Williams and House have the edge in experience, but both Alexander and Jackson were considered the top prospects at their position by some pundits.
Whatever the starting lineup winds up being, the ability to go five deep in the defensive backfield is a good problem to have.
Houston Texans: Offensive Line
There's an elephant in the room where the Houston Texans are concerned. That elephant is a problem because Houston's leaky offensive line keeps letting it trample quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Only the Indianapolis Colts (56) allowed more sacks in 2017 than Houston's 54, and that has to stop.
In theory, Houston's line appears improved. After four years in Buffalo, tackle Seantrel Henderson joined the team in free agency. Ditto for guard Zach Fulton, who started 12 games for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. And guard Senio Kelemete, who started eight games for the New Orleans Saints last year.
Add in second-year pros Nick Martin and Julie'n Davenport, and on paper this unit looks better than last year's quintet of matadors.
But games aren't played on paper.
Henderson hasn't been able to recapture the form he showed as a rookie in 2014. He and Davenport could be in for a challenge from third-round rookie Martinas Rankin. If Fulton or Kelemete struggle to acclimate to their new home, Kyle Fuller or David Quessenberry could challenge for snaps.
With Watson returning from an ACL tear this summer, it's doubly important that the Texans get their best five linemen on the field in front of him.
And that new-look line will be the storyline to watch when the Texans open camp in late July.
Indianapolis Colts: Defensive End
If NFL success depends on winning the battle in the trenches, then it's not hard to see why the Indianapolis Colts were 4-12 last year.
Both the offensive and defensive lines were horrific. And the Colts' move to a 4-3 defense under head coach Frank Reich magnifies the hole at defensive end.
One spot appears sewn up. Eighth-year veteran Jabaal Sheard has never posted more than 8.5 sacks in a season, but he's the most proven pass-rusher on the team by a sizable margin.
The problem is filling the hole on the other end of the line. Denico Autry, who came over in free agency from Oakland, had a career-high five sacks a year ago. Indianapolis spent a pair of draft picks on ends in second-rounders Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis, and both showed promise in college.
Neither was considered an elite prospect, however—and rookie edge-rushers often take time to acclimate to the NFL.
There's also Margus Hunt, himself a second-round pick (2013). But Hunt has 2.5 sacks for his career—one that's lasted five years.
New defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus needs to figure out quickly where these players (and the other ends on the roster) fit in the rotation and which, if any, can generate consistent pressure.
Because if the Colts can't, it will be another long season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Middle Linebacker
The Jacksonville Jaguars are sailing in uncharted waters. The team is coming off a trip to the AFC Championship Game. Its defense is as loaded as any—especially in the secondary.
But there's at least one question mark hanging over the unit.
When the Jaguars drafted Myles Jack out of UCLA in 2016, it was with a clear vision in mind. Jack would eventually replace Paul Posluszny as the Jaguars' middle linebacker. It's how things started out last year, but as the season progressed, Jack saw more time on the strong side while "Poz" took back over in the middle.
Per Mike Kaye of First Coast News, head coach Doug Marrone said the move had nothing to do with a lack of confidence in Jack.
"I think last year, one of the big things I tried to say was that we never felt that Myles couldn't play Mike, and I mean that," Marrone said. "We just knew that, hey listen, [Posluszny] being in there playing Mike and us moving Myles to Sam was the best combination versus 21 personnel and 12."
Now, Posluszny is retired, and the job at Mike is Jack's yet again. It may well be that he thrives in the new role. But if he struggles, second-year pro and presumptive Sam starter Blair Brown could be involved in another linebacker switcheroo.
Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback
The Kansas City Chiefs made the postseason in 2017, winning the AFC West.
That didn't stop the team from taking a buzz saw to the roster, and with Marcus Peters no longer with Kansas City after a trade to the Los Angeles Rams, the secondary has become one big puzzle waiting to be put together.
The Chiefs have talent and experience at the position. Kendall Fuller, 23, who came over in the trade that sent Alex Smith to Washington, established himself as one of the better young slot corners in the league last year.
Steven Nelson has started 22 games over the last two years for the Chiefs. Free-agent-signee David Amerson has 56 career starts for the Redskins and Oakland Raiders over five seasons.
But neither is exactly a shutdown corner, and after Nelson and Amerson comes a whole lot of "who?" Keith Reaser's next NFL start will be his first. Ashton Lampkin missed his rookie season last year with an ACL tear. And the Chiefs couldn't do much about the position in the draft thanks to the Patrick Mahomes trade.
Maybe one of the youngsters will surprise. But right now the back end of the Chiefs defense reeks of patchwork.
Los Angeles Chargers: Wide Receiver
This battle shouldn't be much of a battle at all.
With all due respect to Tyrell Williams, who came from nowhere to top 1,000 receiving yards in 2016, the Los Angeles Chargers spent a first-round pick on Clemson's Mike Williams last year for one reason and one reason only.
He was supposed to become the primary complement to Keenan Allen at wide receiver.
However, this is the Chargers, a team so snakebitten by injuries that's it's fair to wonder if some sort of ancient curse is involved. Williams' rookie year was a wash, but he's now healthy and told ESPN.com's Eric Williams he intends to leap forward in 2018.
"Now that I have a full offseason," Williams said, "I'm out here trying to get a lot of balls. There's a lot of motivation going into this season, not just to prove to everyone else, but to prove to myself. I know I'm capable of playing in this league, so I just have to go out every day and compete."
Provided he can stay on the field as a sophomore, Williams (Mike) should beat out Williams (Tyrell) as the starter in two-wide sets.
And a sneaky good Chargers team should have plenty of passing-game weaponry for Philip Rivers.
Los Angeles Rams: Inside Linebacker
Where big-name acquisitions are concerned, the Los Angeles Rams went next-level.
Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh were all brought in to help bolster a solid defense. But there were departures as well—inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who paced the team with 95 total tackles in 2017, was dealt to the New York Giants. Edge-rusher Robert Quinn was sent to Miami.
The former left a big hole in the middle of L.A.'s defense. And there won't be any household names arriving to fill it.
Fourth-year pro Bryce Hager acquitted himself well in his lone start for the Rams in 2017. But that lone start was his first, and Hager has amassed all of 23 total stops in three seasons.
Ramik Wilson offers more NFL experience, having started 15 games over the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. But there's a reason Wilson isn't in Kansas City anymore: He's adequate but little more than a liability in pass coverage.
With Suh and Aaron Donald up front, the Rams have one of football's best defensive lines.
The inside linebackers are another matter, aside from Mark Barron.
Miami Dolphins: Linebacker
The Miami Dolphins might have an athletic cadre of young linebackers who can make noise in 2018.
Or the linebacker spot might be the defense's biggest weakness.
The most proven commodity among the group is sixth-year veteran Kiko Alonso, who has amassed 115 total tackles in each of his two seasons with Miami. But there's a reason Alonso's on his third team—a shortcoming that becomes evident every time he gets blown off the point of attack.
The team drafted Raekwon McMillan last year to add physicality to the middle of the defense, but McMillan lost his entire rookie season to a knee injury. Fellow former Buckeyes star Jerome Baker is a rangy 229-pounder, but he's a bit undersized, and his next NFL game will be his first.
Then there's Stephone Anthony, who has the experience starting on the strong side the Dolphins need. But Anthony hasn't come close to living up to the Round 1 pick the New Orleans Saints invested in him in 2015.
It seems as though Alonso will man the weak side with McMillan in the middle. But the Dolphins still need a Sam, and none of the jobs (outside maybe Alonso's are carved in stone).
Minnesota Vikings: Right Tackle
Like most contending teams, the Minnesota Vikings don't have a glaring roster hole. Most of the battling that will go on in camp this year concerns depth and special teams contributors.
However, Pittsburgh tackle Brian O'Neill's selection in the second round of the 2018 draft sets up an interesting duel along the offensive line.
O'Neill's an athletic, 6'7", 297-pound blocker who in theory has the skill set to play either guard or tackle on both sides of the line. He needs to add strength and refine his technique, but the potential's there for O'Neill to at least be a valuable reserve.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com thinks O'Neill can be more. Toward the end of the season, the Vikings kicked Mike Remmers inside from right tackle to guard. Rosenthal, apparently expecting a strong camp from O'Neill, predicted the rookie will make that move permanent.
Just over a year ago, Remmers was all smiles as he signed a five-year, $30 million deal to play right tackle in the Twin Cities.
If that's the spot he wants to stay in, Remmers has a fight on his hands.
New England Patriots: Left Tackle
There isn't a more important blindside protector in the NFL than the man tasked with keeping Golden Boy Tom Brady's jersey clean.
After Nate Solder's free-agent departure to the New York Giants, the New England Patriots have to figure out who that player will be this season.
It wasn't that long ago that six-year veteran LaAdrian Waddle looked to be the favorite to replace Solder. But now he's likely no higher than third on the early pecking order.
With New England's first of two 2018 Round 1 picks, the team selected Georgia's Isaiah Wynn. The 6'3", 313-pounder was projected by most scouts as a guard, but per Bernd Buchmasser of Pats Pulpit, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia indicated New England will try Wynn out at the spot he played in college, left tackle.
There's also Trent Brown, who the Patriots gave up a third-round pick to acquire from the San Francisco 49ers during this year's draft. The 6'8", 355-pound tackle wasn't a good fit for San Fran's zone-blocking scheme and missed six games last year with a shoulder injury. But before that, Brown was playing the best football of his career—albeit on the right side of the line.
With a star quarterback on the wrong side of 40 and a shrinking championship window, this is one the Patriots have to get right.
New Orleans Saints: Cornerback
Some teams struggle to assemble a starting secondary. Just getting a nickel back they can trust becomes quite the exercise.
The New Orleans Saints do not have that problem. In fact, the Saints will be rolling out a corner in the dime this year who would probably start for a handful of teams.
The question is: Who'll be the odd man out?
We know it won't be Marshon Lattimore. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2017, Lattimore secured his status as the team's No. 1 cornerback.
Given how well he played in the slot for the Philadelphia Eagles last year (matching a career high with four interceptions), Patrick Robinson would appear to have the inside track for duties there after signing with the Saints in the offseason.
That leaves a pair of third-year pros to battle for the outside slot opposite Lattimore. And in many ways, P.J. Williams (6'0", 196 lbs) and Ken Crawley (6'1", 180 lbs) are carbon copies. Similar size. Similar skill sets. Similar production in 2017.
That sets the stage for an interesting battle between evenly matched combatants—the fairest of fights.
May the best man win.
New York Giants: Cornerback
There was a time, not long ago, when the New York Giants possessed one of the NFL's deepest, most talented secondaries.
There's still talent in the unit, in the likes of cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins. But outside Jenkins, the cornerback position looks like the Riddler's costume.
Question marks all over the place.
Eli Apple is a 2016 first-round pick whose first two NFL seasons can best be classified as unmitigated disasters after he spent most of the second feuding with teammates and coaches. The rest of the depth chart is comprised of journeyman veterans such as William Gay and Teddy Williams and unproven youngsters like Curtis Riley, 25.
New York's decision to eschew the position in this year's draft made the water murkier.
You know the situation isn't great when undrafted free agents like Aaron Davis have a real chance at cracking the 53-man roster.
Even if Apple gets his act together, the Giants are thin at one of the NFL's most important positions.
If he doesn't, things could get ugly.
New York Jets: Quarterback
There's a saying in college football that teams with two quarterbacks have no quarterback.
Here's hoping that doesn't apply to the NFL—because the New York Jets have five.
Where the battle to start in concerned, the Jets have three. If Christian Hackenberg wins the spot, that would signal the Apocalypse.
Of the three, Teddy Bridgewater's the long shot. It isn't that Bridgewater can't play—he led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs in 2015. But that's also the last time the 25-year-old saw significant snaps—he spent the last two seasons attempting to recover from a horrific knee injury.
After a 2017 season in which he completed 67.3 percent of his passes, posted a passer rating of 94.5 and won five games as the starter, Josh McCown returned to the Jets. But McCown's 38 and has never made it through a 16-game season.
Then there's rookie Sam Darnold, who the Jets selected with the third overall pick. With McCown and Bridgewater in town, there would appear to be no rush to get the youngster on the field. But if Darnold out-plays the veterans in camp, there also no good reason not to start him.
Summertime in the Big Apple will be all about the battle under center.
The inside linebacker spot has long been a sore one for the Oakland Raiders. And with NaVorro Bowman no longer on the team (at least for now), the Silver and Black are starting again in 2018.
Not long ago, this looked like it wouldn't be much of a battle. After six years in Detroit (and two 100-plus-tackle seasons), Tahir Whitehead signed with Oakland. Whitehead's no world-beater, but he's a capable, experienced professional.
However, the later addition of veteran Derrick Johnson has clouded the matter. Johnson looked every bit his age last year in Kansas City, but the 35-year-old is a former first-team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler who has logged 100-plus stops five times.
Whitehead's still the more likely starter, but Johnson's arrival signifies he'll have to earn that gig.
It also signifies new head coach Jon Gruden understands Oakland's linebacker play has to improve if the Raiders are to get back in the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles: Tight End
In news that should surprise no one, the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles don't have many holes.
In fact, Philadelphia's starting 11 on both offense and defense are as set as any squad's.
That doesn't mean there aren't camp battles worth watching, however.
For many teams, losing their No. 2 tight end would be no big deal. But Eagles head coach Doug Pederson loves him some two-tight sets—and the Eagles demonstrated with the second-round selection of small-school standout Dallas Goedert how much they value the spot behind Zach Ertz.
The thing is, that role as the second tight end won't be handed to Goedert—because the Eagles had already taken steps to replace Trey Burton with the signing of free-agent Richard Rodgers.
Rodgers, who hauled in eight touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers in 2015, offers more experience with getting dirty in the run game. Goedert offers the team another athletic field-stretcher at the position who creates matchup problems.
If Goedert shows to be a quick study and isn't afraid to trade paint while opening holes, that athleticism will get him on the field a lot as a rookie.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebackers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a large hole looming over the defense—smack dab in the middle.
With Ryan Shazier already ruled out for the 2018 season due to his spinal injury, Pittsburgh has to attempt to replace arguably its best defensive player.
Third-year pro Tyler Matakevich is the in-house option. He played in 15 games last year and was called upon when Shazier went down, but in that same Dec. 4 game, Matakevich went down as well with a dislocated left shoulder.
Matakevich's unimpressive audition led the Steelers to look outside the organization. Pittsburgh signed free agent Jon Bostic, who posted a career-high 97 tackles in 14 starts with the Indianapolis Colts in 2017.
Then there's rookie Terrell Edmunds. Pittsburgh's first pick in the 2018 draft was a safety by trade at Virginia Tech, but the 6'1", 217-pounder could figure into the mix as a sub-package linebacker in passing situations.
Bostic's the most proven of the trio and the early favorite to win the job. But he's also on his fourth team since he came into the league in 2015. Entrenched he isn't.
San Francisco 49ers: Offensive Guard
Should Reuben Foster's legal status change, the waters could muddy a lot at linebacker in San Francisco. But as things stand, the most wide-open position battle for a 49ers team with postseason aspirations is easily the interior of the offensive line.
Laken Tomlinson made 15 starts for the 49ers at guard last year after coming over via a trade with the Detroit Lions. To his credit, Tomlinson's play improved as he grew accustomed to his new team and scheme. But the 2015 first-round pick also drew his fair share of criticism.
Tomlinson's main competition to start is another first-round pick who hasn't lived up to expectations, Jonathan Cooper. Cooper had the best year of his career in 2017 with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's also coming off knee surgery and suiting up for his fifth team in six seasons.
Youngster Joshua Garnett was himself a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016. But an uneven rookie year was followed by a season-ending knee injury before year two. He's lost weight in an effort to gain the mobility coveted in a zone-blocking scheme, and if his knee's back at 100 percent, he could push Cooper or Tomlinson if either slips.
Add in second-year pro Erik Magnuson (who impressed in limited duty as a rookie) and there's a four-man fight for two positions.
Seattle Seahawks: Running Back
The Seattle Seahawks' run game has been a mess since Marshawn Lynch hung up the cleats he later put back on in Oakland.
There's been a carousel of ball-carriers and a cavalcade of injuries at the position over the past couple of years. As Brady Henderson reported for ESPN.com, head coach Pete Carroll allowed that the instability in Seattle's ground game was a big part of the team's reasoning in making Rashaad Penny (a durable 220-pound bell cow from San Diego State) its first pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
"Absolutely," Carroll said. "It was an important element in his makeup and background."
The rest is up to Penny.
There's little question that Penny has the inside track to early-down duties (at least) with the Seahawks this year. If C.J. Prosise is healthy, he'll figure in on passing downs, but Seattle's depth chart at running back isn't loaded.
But with that inside track and high draft status comes increased pressure to succeed right away on a team with a lot of pressure already to succeed right away after a disappointing 2017 campaign.
If Mike Davis or Chris Carson winds up seeing much in the way of a workload, it's probably a bad sign for the Seahawks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled in a big way against the pass last year. No team allowed more passing yards per game than Tampa's 260.6.
Two years ago, the Buccaneers invested the 11th overall pick in Florida's Vernon Hargreaves. Despite the fact that Hargreaves hasn't come close to living up to that slot, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht insisted to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times that the team isn't about to throw in the towel:
"We were very happy with Vernon in his rookie year. We thought he was trending up. Last year, he had a couple of setbacks. He would be the first to tell you that. By no means are we giving up on Vernon. He has a lot of talent. I thought at the end of the season before he got hurt and put on IR with his hamstring that he was showing glimpses of what he was his rookie year. Vernon fits that to us—he fits the definition of the guy that can do both."
Tampa hasn't given up entirely, but the selection of North Carolina's M.J. Stewart in the second round of this year's draft put Hargreaves on notice that his hold on the starting job opposite Brent Grimes is far from assured.
That may be for the best. Hargreaves' level of play improved in 2017 when he kicked inside to the slot.
Tennessee Titans: Inside Linebacker
As first-time head coaches go, Mike Vrabel didn't get a bad deal. The Tennessee Titans won a playoff game in 2017, and the team doesn't have a ton of holes.
There is, however, at least one starting spot of interest to a defensively minded head coach like Vrabel that may not be decided until well into the summer.
The Titans let Avery Williamson walk in free agency (to the Jets) in part because 23-year-old Jayon Brown ate into Williamson's workload more and more as the season progressed. Brown told Jim Wyatt of Titans Online that he thinks having an NFL season under his belt gives him a decided edge heading into his second year.
"Having a real offseason this year to focus on football and not running 40s and other [drills], it should help," Brown said. "This offseason is going great, and I am still working to get stronger and faster and better so I can have a successful second year in the NFL, and make the most of it."
Brown will need that edge. The Titans didn't spend a first-round pick on Alabama's Rashaan Evans so the 6'3", 232-pounder could watch games from the sideline. Brown's experience should at least give him an advantage in the battle for passing-down snaps, but if Evans plays as-advertised, most of Brown's second campaign could be spent as a spectator.
Washington Redskins: Cornerback
The Washington Redskins struggled to stop the run in 2017, but the team was decent against the pass—ninth in the NFL at 213.8 yards per game allowed.
However, that pass defense is wide-open in 2018—at least at the cornerback position.
One spot is sewn up and then some by veteran Josh Norman. The pecking order for the others will be determined in training camp and the preseason.
With Kendall Fuller heading to Kansas City as part of the Alex Smith trade, both the outside slot opposite Norman and the slot are undetermined.
The best bet to fill the latter is Orlando Scandrick, who joined the Redskins in free agency after nine seasons with their NFC East rivals in Dallas. Scandrick isn't a huge big-play threat (just eight career interceptions), but he's a steady veteran who isn't afraid to mix it up in run support.
Outside, the Redskins thought enough of Quinton Dunbar to extend the fourth-year pro this offseason. But he'll have to hold off second-year pro Fabian Moreau, who is angling for an expanded role after playing sparingly as a rookie.