Who's Winning the Biggest NFL Training Camp Battles?
Forget depth charts. They mean next to nothing to NFL coaches as they rotate players based on schemes, not pieces of paper often put together and released by media relations departments.
Sometimes coaches mess with everyone, like when the Miami Dolphins listed two starters at running back.
"Just to be an a--hole," head coach Adam Gase said, per the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser. "I wouldn't look too much into this depth chart."
Every team will change rotations on a daily basis to see how individuals perform when placed in certain situations. One day, a coach might want to see how a young quarterback handles the red-zone offense while working with the first team. only for that signal-caller to spend the rest of the week leading the second and third units.
Even so, some competitions are already over before they really began. The Cleveland Browns, for example, quickly decided Shon Coleman and rookie Austin Corbett wouldn't be able to replace Joe Thomas and instead moved standout guard Joel Bitonio to left tackle.
Also, none of this year's first-round quarterbacks are truly pushing for starting roles yet.
Numerous other training camp battles are alive and well for every franchise. How are the league's most intriguing camp battles progressing? Let's take a look.
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback
The Buffalo Bills own the league's most unsettled quarterback situation with AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman bobbing and weaving between the first and second units and the coaching staff holding back this year's seventh overall pick, Josh Allen.
"It's part of where we are as an organization with our quarterback situation. ... All three offer or have a ton of strengths and have a ton of work to do, like our whole football team," head coach Sean McDermott said, per Nick Wojton of USA Today's Bills Wire.
McDermott will almost certainly pull back on Allen's reins until the rookie proves himself capable of handling an NFL offense. Nurturing his prodigious talent is of the utmost importance, even if it means placing inferior options in the lineup to start the season. Allen hasn't even taken first-team reps since Thursday, according to ESPN.com's Mike Rodak.
Peterman is the surprise. Last year's fifth-round pick ran the first-team offense on Monday, per Rodak. The switcheroo occurred after McCarron led the starting group throughout the weekend.
McCarron likely holds a slight edge to be the team's bridge toward Allen.
Advantage: AJ McCarron
Dallas Cowboys: No. 1 Wide Receiver
A No. 1 wide receiver is hard to define, but everyone knows one when they see him. As the game evolves, so does the way offenses attack opposing defenses. A wide receiver who can consistently create separation and catch the football often becomes a team's top option.
Cole Beasley fits this description despite his lack of size (5'8", 180 pounds) and history as a slot receiver.
"You're still getting open and catching balls," he said, per the Associated Press' Schuyler Dixon (h/t The Herald). "It's about production, whether it's from the inside or outside."
Quarterback Dak Prescott will have multiple options with Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams and draft picks Michael Gallup and Noah Brown. Tavon Auston will also be a hybrid running back/wide receiver.
Beasley, however, is the most reliable of the bunch, and the Cowboys plan to expand his role.
"I think he's always been able to handle it," head coach Jason Garrett said, per The Athletic's Calvin Watkins. "You've seen him have a lot of success at different times as an outside receiver. You're absolutely right, he plays much more inside, but we've done that with him before."
Get open or get off the field. Beasley isn't the biggest or most explosive option, but he can get open.
Advantage: Cole Beasley
Denver Broncos: Running Back
Running back is the only position where being a rookie isn't a detriment. After all, the last few draft classes provided Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara. Their instant impacts as runners and receivers can't be stressed enough.
The New York Giants' Saquon Barkley is expected to be this year's breakout star, but the Denver Broncos' Royce Freeman worked himself into a spot where his contributions could drive his team's offense.
"I've talked to people in Denver," Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis said on NFL Total Access (via NFL Network's Chris Wesseling), "and they're just thrilled by what they see in camp and what they saw in minicamp from Royce Freeman. They think he's going to be the starting running back."
The organization parted ways with leading rusher C.J. Anderson this offseason, and Devontae Booker managed only 299 yards on 79 carries last season. Booker, who is a 2016 fourth-round pick, adds versatility to the backfield, but he doesn't present the same punch or nose for the end zone as Freeman, who left Oregon as the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader with 60 rushing touchdowns.
Freeman and Booker will operate together in a shared backfield, but the rookie should be featured.
Advantage: Royce Freeman
New England Patriots: Left Tackle
There are only so many people on this planet with Trent Brown's size (6'8", 380 pounds) and even fewer with enough athleticism to protect Tom Brady's blind side.
Brown has his own gravitational pull, which makes it nearly impossible for pass-rushers to circumnavigate him.
"Trent's big, and he can move his feet well," defensive end Trey Flowers said, per NESN's Doug Kyed. "... You can't really go around him. You definitely can't go through him, so you just gotta find a way to kind of move his feet or whatever."
Brown's size and length have translated after starting the last two seasons as the San Francisco 49ers' right tackle. His mobility continues to catch everyone in Patriots camp off guard.
"He's very athletic," head coach Bill Belichick said, per Henry McKenna of USA Today's Patriots Wire. "He can run, he can bend, he can change directions, he's long, and he's strong and he plays with good knee bend."
New England flipped a third-round pick to acquire Brown, and early returns indicate a steal. First-round pick Isaiah Wynn, meanwhile, took first-team reps at left tackle and guard during minicamp. However, the rookie's opportunities have faded during training camp. This competition isn't officially over, but it's close to being decided.
Advantage: Trent Brown
New York Jets: Quarterback
The New York Jets' quarterback battle isn't a direct competition among three different signal-callers. Instead, the organization appears to have three different plans in place based on which quarterback is being discussed.
Josh McCown is the veteran and the current leader to open the season as the team's starter.
"Josh is the front-runner. They have to take it from him," head coach Todd Bowles said during an interview on the Michael Kay Show.
Teddy Bridgewater, meanwhile, is everything the team hoped he would be despite missing nearly all of the last two seasons with a knee injury.
"I'm told that some people at the Jets are so impressed with Bridgewater thus far that they are quote 'obsessed,'" NFL Network's Mike Silver reported.
No one should be naive to the possibility of New York pumping up Bridgewater to increase the quarterback's trade value.
While McCown still holds an edge, Darnold is coming on strong after missing early portions of training camp due to a contract squabble. The rookie will be given "a very fair shot" to win the job and become the starter for the season-opener against the Detroit Lions, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Advantage: Josh McCown
Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebacker
Jon Bostic is well on his way to becoming Ryan Shazier's successor.
Tyler Matakevich worked as the first-team inside linebacker next to Vince Williams during minicamp and initial training camp sessions. The team even lists the third-year pro as a starter.
Bostic, however, asserted himself in recent days with his communication skills.
"I'm always going to be talking," Bostic said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Kevin Gorman. "... You've got to overcommunicate when you're out there. ... The coaches are seeing that and other players are noticing it, as well, and saying, 'It's so much easier playing with you because I don't have to think. I can play fast.'"
The 27-year-old defender can't match Shazier's speed or athleticism, but his ability to get teammates into the right alignment is a critical aspect of playing the position.
"He understands, he's smart and he knows football," inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky said, per Gorman. "... Being in all of those systems (five teams in four years) means you can sample a lot of dishes. The good thing is, he can pass his knowledge on out there. That’s a skill, to be able to talk while people are moving. That's what I appreciate about him."
Bostic appears to have found a home.
Advantage: Jon Bostic
Seattle Seahawks: Running Back
The Seattle Seahawks decided the offense could be helped more by adding talent at running back than to the offensive line. Ironically, the team's starting running back may have already been on the roster.
General manager John Schneider chose Rashaad Penny with the 27th overall overall pick in April's draft to the surprise of many. Penny is an impressive prospect, but the Seahawks' ground issues didn't start with those taking handoffs. Poor offensive line play and injuries hurt the team's rushing attack.
Chris Carson, in particular, played well in limited opportunities before suffering a broken ankle. The 23-year-old back is now healthy and performing well in his second training camp.
"He's just worked so hard and [is] so well-conditioned and so strong that ... he's tearing it up," head coach Pete Carroll said, per the Tacoma News-Tribune's Gregg Bell. "And so we're real excited about it. ... He was just getting going last year, and I think he would've been a very impacting football player on our team, and we missed him terribly."
Expectations are heaped upon first-round picks. Penny isn't a disappointment, yet Bell described him as a "distinct number two." Sometimes another young player seizes upon an opportunity, and Carson has done just that.
Advantage: Chris Carson
Tennessee Titans: Inside Linebacker
Some camp battles are expected. Others emerge.
Once the Tennessee Titans traded up to acquire linebacker Rashaan Evans with the 22nd pick in this year's NFL draft, the void Avery Williamson created by signing with the New York Jets was supposed to be solved. But that hasn't been the case, since Evans continues to deal with dehydration issues during training camp.
"He's still being evaluated, and his availability, right now, [is] probably day-to-day," head coach Mike Vrabel said Wednesday, per the Nashville Tennessean's Erik Bacharach. "He's in all the meetings, very attentive, just not ready to get back to the practice field."
As a result, veteran Will Compton will push to be the starter next to Wesley Woodyard. Compton is an experienced and competent defender with 33 career starts over the last four seasons.
"That's a big reason why I came," Compton said of the competition after the team drafted Evans, per John Glennon of the team's official site. "I'm looking forward to competing with all those guys. We have a great room, so we'll see how it all unfolds."
The spot belongs to this year's first-round pick if he's healthy, but an extended absence opens the door for Compton.
Advantage: Rashaan Evans