Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2019

Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Iron sharpens iron.

    At NFL training camps, competition brings out the best among players in heated battles for starting jobs.

    There's no telling how contested positions will shake out with 90-man rosters. Rookies, drafted and undrafted, longtime veterans and developing talents will have their shots to fill voids on depth charts. Coaching staffs will allow the players decide who earns a prominent role for the regular season. 

    Last year, we saw fierce quarterback battles in Cleveland, New York, Buffalo and Arizona, with one rookie emerging as the opening-week starter. Running back Phillip Lindsay went undrafted out of Colorado and split starts with 2018 third-rounder Royce Freeman in the Denver Broncos backfield.

    Where are the crucial position battles this offseason? 

    We'll highlight a weak area for every team. Perhaps it's an underperforming pass rush, a stagnant ground attack or a poor run-blocking offensive line; maybe the front office released, traded or lost a starter in free agency.

    Based on those factors, let's take a look at each team's most important training camp competition.

          

Arizona Cardinals: Center

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    Arizona Cardinals Cole Mason
    Arizona Cardinals Cole MasonWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: A.Q. Shipley, Mason Cole

    The Arizona Cardinals ranked 26th in pass protection last year, per Football Outsiders. If the offensive line remains at that performance level, quarterback Kyler Murray will have to fend for himself, using his legs to escape constant pressure.

    In division matchups, interior defensive tackles Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) and DeForest Buckner (San Francisco 49ers) could have sack parties if Arizona doesn't shore up the middle.

    Shipley tore his ACL last August, which allowed Cole to take over at the position. The 2018 third-rounder was the only starter on the line to play all 16 games. 

    Cole isn't a surefire starting holdover, though. Weeks after Shipley suffered his knee injury, the Cardinals extended his contract through the 2019 campaign. There's a chance he could reclaim his spot at the pivot, where he became a fixture between the 2016-17 terms. 

    Keep in mind Cole lined up at left tackle for three of his four years at Michigan. The Cardinals may utilize him as a versatile backup and rely on the more experienced veteran in the middle. 

    Assuming Shipley fully recovers from his injury, he's a good bet to the win the starting spot in a contract year. Then again, it's not easy to come back from an ACL tear. If the soon-to-be 33-year-old looks sluggish (his birthday is Wednesday), Cole will win this battle.

Atlanta Falcons: Right Guard

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    Atlanta Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom
    Atlanta Falcons guard Chris LindstromTami Chappell/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Jamon Brown, Chris Lindstrom

    The Atlanta Falcons made several investments in their offensive line. They re-signed Ty Sambrailo, acquired James Carpenter and Brown in free agency and selected Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary in the first round of this year's draft in Nashville, Tennessee. 

    Although the Falcons will have three new starters along the O-line, we'll focus on the right guard spot. For most of his career, Carpenter has played left guard, and he'll likely replace Andy Levitre, who retired. The front office traded up to take McGary at No. 31 overall, so the rookie should have every chance to start over Sambrailo, a career backup.

    Brown has started in more than half of his games, most recently at right guard for the Rams and New York Giants. The Falcons inked him to a three-year, $18.75 million deal, per Spotrac. The front office selected Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick, which pits two priority pickups against each other for a spot on the interior. If the rookie wins the job, Brown has the versatility to push Carpenter at left guard.

    According to Football Outsiders, the Falcons offensive line ranked 24th in adjusted line yards (4.08) last season. If the club intends to improve its 27th-ranked ground attack (98.3 yards per game), the coaching staff should have a close eye on this potentially intense battle at right guard.

Baltimore Ravens: Outside Linebacker

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    Baltimore Ravens outsider linebacker Tim Williams
    Baltimore Ravens outsider linebacker Tim WilliamsLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, Shane Ray, Pernell McPhee

    Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith accounted for more than a third of the Baltimore Ravens' sacks last season (15.5 out of 43). Losing them is a significant hit for a unit that ranked first in yards allowed in 2018. 

    General manager Eric DeCosta put the spotlight on Bowser and Williams during a predraft media conference, per Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun

    "I've seen them play really good football at the college level. Both guys have flashed ability at our level, so they're both athletic guys, play hard. Within our defense, our scheme, they both can rush the passer, as we've seen in college. So this is their time. We've got some holes in the roster at both spots at the outside linebacker position." 

    In 2017, the Ravens selected Bowser and Williams in Rounds 2 and 3, respectively. Both have provided minimal impact in their first two years, combining for 5.5 career sacks. They will have opportunities to contribute in a rotation, but one of them could produce a breakout campaign.

    Baltimore went heavy on outside help to bolster its pass rush.

    In the third round of this year's draft, the Ravens selected Ferguson—the NCAA's career sack leader among FBS programs. Clearly, the Louisiana Tech product brings upside to the position group. The front office added McPhee, who spent his first four years with the club, amassing 17 sacks in 60 games, primarily in a reserve role. Ray, who signed Friday, logged 12 sacks in his first two years with the Broncos from 2015-16.

    Baltimore will likely have multiple players coming off the edge opposite Matt Judon, but DeCosta seems to favor Bowser or Williams to take a third-year leap.

Buffalo Bills: No. 2 Cornerback

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    Buffalo Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines
    Buffalo Bills cornerback E.J. GainesBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Kevin Johnson, E.J. Gaines, Levi Wallace, Ryan Lewis

    The Buffalo Bills addressed the cornerback spot via free agency, signing Johnson and Gaines; the latter started 11 contests for the club during the 2017 campaign, logging nine pass breakups and an interception. 

    Johnson suffered a concussion during last year's preseason and in Week 1; he landed on injured reserve and didn't play another game. The 26-year-old couldn't shake off the injury bug in Houston, suiting up for 35 contests in four seasons.

    As the No. 16 overall pick of the 2015 draft, Johnson has some upside, but he has to stay healthy to reach his potential.

    With Taron Johnson likely locked into the slot cornerback spot, Wallace and Lewis will push for a starting role after they saw spot duty on the perimeter in 2018. They logged three pass breakups apiece.

    If injuries plague Gaines and Johnson early in training camp, Wallace or Lewis could have a place in the starting lineup. The Bills need more takeaways from their cornerbacks after the position group logged three interceptions in 2018.

Carolina Panthers: Left Tackle

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    Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Taylor Moton
    Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Taylor MotonCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Taylor Moton, Greg Little

    The Carolina Panthers will play a game of musical chairs with the offensive line, depending on what happens at left tackle. 

    The team released longtime tackle Matt Kalil, who sat out for the 2018 campaign after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Last season, Chris Clark logged the most snaps on quarterback Cam Newton's blind side, but he's a free agent.

    Moton started the first two games of the 2018 season at left tackle and then moved to the perimeter on the right side for 14 contests. The Panthers selected Little in the second round this year. According to Joseph Person of The Athletic, the team hopes he wins the job. 

    "The Panthers hope Little, the second-round pick from Ole Miss, will win the job at left tackle," Person wrote. "That would allow them to put what they feel are their best five linemen on the field, with either Williams or Moton staying at right tackle and the other shifting inside to left guard." 

    If Little isn't ready to start at left tackle, Moton would likely take that spot again, but this time, it would be for the duration of the year.

Chicago Bears: Running Back

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    Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery
    Chicago Bears running back David MontgomeryNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Mike Davis, David Montgomery

    The Chicago Bears traded running back Jordan Howard, whose numbers hit career lows in yards (935) and yards per carry (3.7) under head coach Matt Nagy in 2018. The front office sent him to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick. 

    Last year, Howard averaged 15.6 rushing attempts per contest, which suggests his replacement could have a major role. Tarik Cohen led the team in receptions (71), and he'll likely continue to serve as a pass-catching asset with a handful of carries per contest. As a result, the All-Pro playmaker isn't listed for this position battle. 

    General manager Ryan Pace signed Davis and then selected Montgomery in the third round of the 2019 draft. Last season, the veteran eclipsed 100 carries in a single season for the first time with the Seattle Seahawks. The rookie logged 250-plus rushing attempts during his sophomore and junior seasons at Iowa State. 

    Cohen, Davis and Montgomery could all have decent workloads, but either Davis or Montgomery will emerge as the early-down ball-carrier and potentially the finisher near the goal line. Both had recent workloads that suggest they could handle a higher volume of rushing attempts.

Cincinnati Bengals: Left Guard/Right Guard

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    Cincinnati Bengals guard Alex Redmond
    Cincinnati Bengals guard Alex RedmondGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Cordy Glenn, Clint Boling, Alex Redmond, John Miller, Michael Jordan, Christian Westerman

    The Cincinnati Bengals have an emerging playmaker in the backfield; running back Joe Mixon was fourth leaguewide in rushing yards (1,168) last season. Still, the club ranked 21st in the category. 

    New head coach Zac Taylor is coming from the Rams, a team that fed lead ball-carrier Todd Gurley over the last two years, and he will likely add volume to the ground attack. The Bengals ranked 26th in rushing attempts in 2018. Moreover, the running backs need better run blocking up front. Cincinnati's offensive line finished 22nd in adjusted line yards (4.10), per Football Outsiders

    The front office selected Jonah Williams with the 11th overall pick this year. According to The Athletic's Jay Morrison, offensive line coach Jim Turner plans to use him at left tackle and move Cordy Glenn to left guard. 

    "Turner sat down with veteran left tackle Cordy Glenn a few days after the draft and informed him that after seven seasons and 90 starts at left tackle, he would be moving inside to left guard, supplanted by a rookie," Morrison wrote.

    We'll focus on the guard spots since Williams and Billy Price (a 2018 first-rounder) are likely starters at the tackle and center positions, respectively. We don't know how well or poorly Glenn transitions to left guard; he hasn't played the position since his college days at Georgia. The Bengals can fall back on Boling if the experiment fails.

    Redmond has only started one year at the right guard. The Bengals signed Miller, who played exclusively on the right interior position in Buffalo. This suggests team brass wanted competition for the starting spot. 

    At Ohio State, Jordan lined up at center and left guard. Price's collegiate experience on the inside at all three spots further complicates the possibilities. He could move to either guard position if Jordan starts at center. Westerman has two starts at left guard, and he'll have an opportunity to impress the new coaching staff.

    The Bengals have one of the most fascinating position battles on the interior of the offensive line because of all the moving parts.

Cleveland Browns: Right Guard

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    Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Austin Corbett
    Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Austin CorbettRon Schwane/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Austin Corbett, Eric Kush, Bryan Witzmann

    Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey traded right guard Kevin Zeitler and a fifth-round pick to the Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon and a fourth-rounder in March.

    Dorsey boosted the pass rush but subtracted from a solid offensive line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield took just three sacks after Week 9 last season. In Zeitler's place, Browns writers have Corbett at right guard in post-draft depth-chart projections. 

    Corbett started three years at left tackle as a collegian, so there's a possibility he could experience a rocky transition. Ben Axelrod of WKYC 3 believes a more experienced veteran could start if the Nevada product falls short of expectations.

    "Of Cleveland's five projected starters, Corbett has the most to prove and could ultimately be replaced by a more experienced player like Bryan Witzmann or Kush should he not be up to the task," Axelrod wrote.

    Although expected to start, Corbett isn't a shoo-in at right guard. The front office made sure to add veteran insurance this offseason with Kush and Witzmann, who both have limited experience at the position. 

Dallas Cowboys: Left Guard

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    Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Connor Williams
    Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Connor WilliamsJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Connor Williams, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Connor McGovern

    The Dallas Cowboys offensive line isn't as dominant compared to groups in years past. According to Football Outsiders, the unit ranked 28th in pass protection in 2018. It's fair to mention center Travis Frederick's lost season due to Guillain-Barre syndrome, but the front five struggled, particularly at left guard.

    Williams opened the season at left guard but yielded the starting spot to Su'a-Filo in Week 10. The two allowed a combined 10.5 sacks, per the Washington Post's STATs. 

    Even though McGovern lined up at right guard and center at Penn State, he's in the mix at left guard, per Calvin Watkins of The Athletic.

    "There will be a competition at left guard between a beefed-up Williams (he has gained at least 10 pounds this offseason), McGovern and Su'a-Filo," Watkins wrote. "It appears the Cowboys will give Williams a shot to play right tackle, too." 

    Williams' bulked-up frame should help him handle larger interior tackles in the trenches, but he's learning a new position after playing left tackle through three terms at Texas. 

    If Su'a-Filo or McGovern earns the job, Williams may be a better fit at right tackle once La'el Collins' contract expires next offseason.

Denver Broncos: Safety

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    Denver Broncos defensive back Kareem Jackson
    Denver Broncos defensive back Kareem JacksonDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Kareem Jackson, Will Parks, Su'a Cravens

    The Broncos released last year's starting strong safety, Darian Stewart, who suited up for 14 games and notched three pass breakups and two interceptions. His departure creates an open competition among roster holdovers Parks and Cravens, along with Jackson, a versatile addition to the secondary in free agency. 

    In 2018, Parks had a decent showing primarily as a backup, with 25 solo tackles, four pass breakups and an interception.

    Cravens flashed during his rookie season in Washington (five pass breakups, one sack and one pick) but stepped away for the 2017 term. The Broncos acquired him during the 2018 offseason, but he opened last year on injured reserve with a knee injury. The hybrid linebacker-safety only appeared in five contests. 

    During last week's organized team activities, Jackson saw time at slot cornerback and safety, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). Bryce Callahan will likely handle duties in the slot, where he played in Chicago under Vic Fangio (the Bears' defensive coordinator between the 2015-18 terms).

    Jackson put his versatility on display with the Texans. Last year, he lined up in the slot, closer to the line of scrimmage in the box and at outside cornerback. 

    We could see a combination of Chris Harris Jr., if the Broncos don't trade him, Callahan and Isaac Yiadom in the top three cornerback spots. That would push Jackson toward safety duties alongside Justin Simmons.

Detroit Lions: No. 2 Cornerback

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    Detroit Lions cornerback Teez Tabor
    Detroit Lions cornerback Teez TaborJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Teez Tabor, Rashaan Melvin, Amani Oruwariye

    The Detroit Lions pass defense ranked eighth in yards allowed but surrendered 29 touchdowns last season (12th-most in the NFL). The unit may be able to cut down on opponents' scoring opportunities with a playmaker opposite cornerback Darius Slay.

    The front office released Nevin Lawson, who played in the slot and on the perimeter during his five-year tenure in Detroit. General manager Bob Quinn signed Melvin and selected Oruwariye in the fifth round of April's draft. Don't forget Tabor, a 2017 second-rounder with much to prove.

    Tabor will have an opportunity to make significant strides, but he hasn't shown much in two years, logging 34 solo tackles without an interception or a pass breakup.

    After a breakout 2017 campaign in which he notched 13 pass breakups and three interceptions with the Indianapolis Colts, Melvin took a step back with the Oakland Raiders, snagging one interception in addition to nine pass breakups last year. He could start in 2019 because of his veteran presence before yielding his spot to younger talent in the latter months.

    At 6'2", 205 pounds with 31⅜-inch arms, Oruwariye possesses the ideal size and length to earn early consideration for a starting role. He also snagged eight interceptions at Penn State. However, the coaching staff must help him with his inconsistent footwork and his route recognition to expedite his ascension.

Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver No. 2

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    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison
    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo AllisonStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Geronimo Allison, J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown

    When quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the league in touchdown passes (40) during the 2016 campaign, he played with a high-end trio at wide receiver. Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb combined for 30 scores that year, and all of them logged catch rates at 62 percent or higher

    The team released Nelson during the 2018 offseason, and he retired in March. Cobb signed with the Cowboys that month, so only Adams remains from that impressive group.

    Last season, Rodgers had 25 touchdown passes, and 13 went to Adams. The team ranked 20th in passing scores. Rodgers needs more from his secondary options at wide receiver.

    Green Bay took three wideouts in last year's draft: Moore, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown (in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, respectively). They'll garner most of the attention going into their second seasons. In 2018, Valdes-Scantling led the trio in receiving yards (581). St. Brown hauled in 15.6 yards per catch—the most among Packers players with at least 20 receptions.

    Allison doesn't garner enough consideration as a breakout player for the upcoming campaign. He started the first four games of the 2018 term and recorded at least 64 receiving yards in each of those outings. The 6'3", 202-pound wideout suffered a concussion as well as hamstring and groin injuries, which limited him to five contests.

    While the sophomore group of wide receivers could see significant growth, it's possible Allison may pick up where he left off in the first quarter of 2018.

Houston Texans: Left Tackle

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    Houston Texans left tackle Julie'n Davenport
    Houston Texans left tackle Julie'n DavenportEric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Julie'n Davenport, Matt Kalil, Tytus Howard, Max Scharping

    Discussing the Texans' offensive line woes for another offseason feels like deja vu. Deshaun Watson took more sacks (62) than any other quarterback last year. 

    General manager Brian Gaine signed Kalil, a career left tackle who missed the entire 2018 campaign while recovering from a procedure on his right knee. Gaine then selected two offensive tackles in this year's draft: Howard at No. 23 overall and Scharping in the second round with the 55th pick.

    According to head coach Bill O'Brien, Howard and Scharping have the ability to play multiple spots on the front line.

    "I would say that both of those guys, Tytus Howard and—now, Tytus will play a lot of left tackle, play a lot of right tackle, but he can play guard, too," O'Brien said, per the team's official website. "Scharping can do both too." 

    Howard could earn a starting job at right tackle—where he played three seasons at Alabama State. Scharping lined up on both sides of the perimeter at Northern Illinois, but he may earn a role on the interior. The rookies should have a fair shot to unseat Davenport at left tackle. In 2018, he allowed 8.75 sacks, per the Washington Post's STATs.   

Indianapolis Colts: Middle Linebacker

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    Indianapolis Colts linebacker Anthony Walker
    Indianapolis Colts linebacker Anthony WalkerTim Warner/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Anthony Walker, Bobby Okereke

    The Colts could have an intense battle in the middle of the defense. As an unknown going into his sophomore year, Walker solidified his spot within the group. He notched 105 combined tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four pass breakups in 15 appearances (14 starts).

    General manager Chris Ballard selected Okereke in the third round of this year's draft. According to The Athletic's Stephen Holder, the coaching staff has immediate plans for the Stanford product: 

    "The plan is to initially deploy Okereke at middle linebacker, though he and all the linebackers will eventually need to grow comfortable playing any of the three spots. That puts Walker directly in the rookie's path to the starting lineup, and we could have ourselves an interesting preseason battle if Okereke is everything the Colts claim." 

    Holder also noted that Okereke's "smarts, athleticism and size [6'1", 239 lbs]" appeal to the organization. 

    Typically, the middle linebacker is the glue of the unit; he adjusts the defense and counters quarterback audibles before the snap. Okereke faces a steep challenge, but he's in the mix to become a rookie starter.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Right Tackle

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    Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor
    Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan TaylorSteve Luciano/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Will Richardson, Jawaan Taylor, Cedric Ogbuehi

    It's easy to point the finger for the Jacksonville Jaguars' shortcomings last year at quarterback Blake Bortles, who was benched, and running back Leonard Fournette (3.3 yards per carry). The offensive line deserves some of the blame. The unit ranked 21st in adjusted line yards (4.12) and 27th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders.

    Of course, left guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder have to stay healthy in 2019 for optimal blocking. The front office also made some moves to upgrade the group, parting with right tackle Jermey Parnell and drafting Taylor.

    Taylor isn't going to easily slide into the right tackle spot. Last year, the Jaguars selected Richardson in the fourth round, but he didn't play a regular-season snap because of a knee injury. 

    Ogbuehi was a first-round draft pick in 2015, but he performed well below expectations in his first four seasons in Cincinnati. The veteran tackle started 25 games between the 2016-17 terms on both sides of the offensive line and allowed 14.5 sacks, per the Washington Post's STATs.

    Despite his experience, Ogbuehi will likely take a backup role behind Taylor or Richardson.

Kansas City Chiefs: Perimeter Cornerback

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    Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller
    Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall FullerEd Zurga/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Kendall Fuller, Charvarius Ward, Tremon Smith, Keith Reaser, Rashad Fenton

    The Kansas City Chiefs didn't re-sign Steven Nelson or Orlando Scandrick. General manager Brett Veach acquired Bashaud Breeland, who has a solid track record as a perimeter cover man. Behind him, there's a major question mark. The team must find an answer to improve last year's 31st-ranked pass defense. 

    Throughout his three-year career, Fuller has lined up primarily in the slot. Will new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo move him to the perimeter opposite Breeland for sub-packages? The two cornerbacks played together with the Redskins in 2016. 

    The Chiefs have a group of unproven talents to fill the outside cornerback spot in nickel alignment if it's not Fuller. 

    As rookies in 2018, Ward and Smith saw more action on special teams than defense. The former started two games and logged three pass breakups in addition to 26 solo tackles. The latter served as the team's lead kick returner with 33 returns for 886 yards. 

    The front office signed Reaser, who had a brief stint with the club during the 2017 campaign. He suffered a quad injury last year in training camp, was waived and then had a strong showing with the Orlando Apollos in the now-defunct American of Alliance Football. 

    Veach selected Fenton in the sixth round of April's draft. He held a primary starting role at South Carolina during his junior and senior terms, but he needs to refine his aggressive technique to avoid penalties at the pro level.

Los Angeles Chargers: Right Tackle

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    Los Angeles Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi
    Los Angeles Chargers right tackle Sam TeviRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Sam Tevi, Trey Pipkins, Forrest Lamp

    For those who believe the Los Angeles Chargers could finally put together a strong season with a long playoff run, there's a major area of concern on the right side of the offensive line.

    At 37 years old, quarterback Philip Rivers isn't going to escape pressure with athleticism—and that's never been his strong suit. The Chargers have to build strong protection around him. Tevi allowed seven sacks last year, per the Washington Post's STATs

    General manager Tom Telesco selected Pipkins in the third round of this year's draft. He's a small-school prospect out of Sioux Falls. Typically, there's a question about a Division II product's ability to handle top-notch competition on the pro level. The rookie played left tackle as a collegian, so his reign as a starter may begin once Russell Okung's tenure ends.

    Lamp could push Michael Schofield for his starting spot at right guard. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer said he'll take reps with the first and second units, per Chris Hayre of the team's official website: "He'll get reps with the ones. We'll split reps with the ones, split reps with the twos. I'll flip him [to the] right [and] left side. We'll compete there, and if things work out like I think they will, I think he'll be fine being inside." 

    Head coach Anthony Lynn suggested Lamp would take reps at tackle to keep him on the active roster, per ESPN.com's Eric Williams. He's a potential candidate to win this battle if Schofield retains his position.

Los Angeles Rams: Left Guard

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    Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Joseph Noteboom
    Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Joseph NoteboomWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Joseph Noteboom, Bobby Evans, David Edwards

    The Rams will have new starters at center and left guard, but we'll focus on the latter position because 2018 fourth-rounder Brian Allen, who has collegiate experience at the pivot, could replace John Sullivan at center.

    The Rams fielded a top-eight ground attack in each of the last two seasons, so it's important for the coaching staff to fill voids on the interior of the front line.

    Rodger Saffold's departure created an opening at left guard, and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has his eyes set on the next man up, per Myles Simmons of the team's official website. 

    "That's what these guys want coming out of college—just put me on the field. I don't care what position, I'll go play," Kromer said. "And Joe showed that ability that we feel like he can go in at left guard and hold his own." 

    Just because Noteboom is first in line to replace Saffold doesn't mean he's set in stone at the position.

    The Rams selected a pair of offensive linemen in this year's draft, Evans (third round) and Edwards (fifth round). In an interview with Simmons, Kromer said the latter would see reps at four positions: "He's going to play four spots. He's going to play both tackles and both guards. It's the fastest way to learn football, and then we'll find out where he fits best." 

    The coach also talked about cross-training Evans, who lined up on the perimeter at Oklahoma.

Miami Dolphins: Quarterback

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    Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen
    Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh RosenMark Brown/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen

    The Miami Dolphins have a battle at the most important position after the front office signed Fitzpatrick and acquired Rosen.

    The Cardinals chose Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick, which made Rosen expendable after his subpar rookie campaign in which he threw for 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing just 55.2 percent of his passing attempts. He'll have a fair shot to beat Fitzpatrick for the starting job in Miami.

    Assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski talked about how the team will split the workload between the two signal-callers, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.

    "I think they'll all be working in with similar guys and getting pretty much equal reps with everybody," Schuplinski said. "Then, eventually, we'll just see how they develop and how they go. I think we'll probably let the process come to us and see who is playing well." 

    Don't overlook Fitzpatrick; he started seven games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year and led the league in yards per completion (14.4). At 36 years old, he's a serviceable bridge quarterback who's capable of holding the starting job until Rosen proves he's ready to lead the offense.

Minnesota Vikings: Right Guard

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    Minnesota Vikings guard Danny Isidora
    Minnesota Vikings guard Danny IsidoraSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Josh Kline, Danny Isidora, Dru Samia, Dakota Dozier

    The Vikings moved Mike Remmers from right tackle to right guard last season, but that experiment fell flat. Brian O'Neill's solid play on the perimeter prevented Remmers from moving back to his natural position, which caused the Vikings to release him this offseason. 

    The Vikings then signed Kline, who brings a wealth of experience over six seasons split between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans. At times, he struggled to sustain his run-block sets in space, but the battle-tested veteran seems like a solid replacement for Remmers. 

    Isidora has played at left guard in spot duty and is likely to provide depth on the interior. The same applies to Dozier, who served as a backup with the New York Jets for the last five years. 

    Samia, a rookie fourth-rounder, has extensive collegiate experience at right guard. The Oklahoma product has impressive length with 33" arms, and he's quick to move into the second level of the defense to open running lanes. His development may put an early end to a veteran's starting reign.

New England Patriots: Left Tackle

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    New England Patriots offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (No. 76)
    New England Patriots offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (No. 76)Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste, Jared Veldheer

    The Patriots didn't re-sign Trent Brown, who allowed only 3.5 sacks in 16 regular-season starts on quarterback Tom Brady's blind side last season, per STATS (via the Washington Post). He replaced the team's longtime left tackle, Nate Solder.

    Now, the cycle repeats with a new face set to step into a crucial position on the front line. 

    Last year, the Patriots selected Wynn with the 23rd overall pick in the draft. The coaching staff considered him a candidate to line up at left tackle, but he tore his Achilles early in the preseason.

    Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia confirmed Wynn is the front-runner for the same role this year (h/t Patriots Wire's Henry McKenna): "That's where we have him penciled in to play. He's in the middle of trying to get his Achilles right, so he'll be out there when he's ready and we'll take it there."

    The Patriots spent a third-round pick this year on Cajuste, who battled knee injuries at West Virginia but established himself at left tackle. According to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, Cajuste underwent surgery to repair a torn quadriceps muscle, but he should be recovered in time for training camp.

New Orleans Saints: Center

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    New Orleans Saints center Nick Easton
    New Orleans Saints center Nick EastonBob Leverone/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Nick Easton, Erik McCoy

    Someone will attempt to fill big cleats at the pivot for the New Orleans Saints in 2019.

    Max Unger, a 2018 Pro Bowler, retired in March. He spent the past four seasons with the Saints, starting all but one game.

    Easton spent the entire 2018 campaign on injured reserve with a herniated disk in his neck, but he started 17 games for the Vikings across the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The Saints signed him to a four-year, $22.5 million deal this offseason, which suggests he's a strong candidate to replace Unger.

    After signing Easton, the Saints spent a second-round pick on McCoy, who largely lined up in the pivot at Texas A&M over the past three seasons. The 6'4", 303-pound rookie clocked a 4.89-second 40 and put up 29 reps on the bench press at the combine.

    If McCoy wins the starting job, Easton would become an expensive backup for the center and left guard spots.

New York Giants: Outside Linebacker

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    New York Giants outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter
    New York Giants outside linebacker Lorenzo CarterAdam Hunger/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Markus Golden

    In 2018, the Giants tied with the Patriots for the second-fewest sacks (30). This offseason, they traded their best pass-rusher, Olivier Vernon, to the Browns. 

    Big Blue will field two new primary starters at outside linebacker. The holdovers, Martin and Carter, started a combined nine games last season. 

    Martin is familiar with defensive coordinator James Bettcher's scheme, but he didn't provide much impact as a pass-rusher with 1.5 sacks in 2018. Meanwhile, Carter logged four sacks and four pass breakups.

    If Martin falls into a backup role after a lackluster campaign, Bettcher could rely on Golden, who played under him with the Cardinals. He logged 12.5 sacks in 2016.

    General manager Dave Gettleman addressed the position in the third round of April's draft with Ximines. He flashed quickness after the snap and strong hand swipes to win his one-on-one matchups at Old Dominion.

New York Jets: No. 2 Cornerback

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    New York Jets cornerback Darryl Slater
    New York Jets cornerback Darryl SlaterSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Darryl Roberts, Parry Nickerson, Blessuan Austin

    Opposing quarterbacks may take aim at the spot opposite Trumaine Johnson in the Jets' secondary.

    The Jets have yet to re-sign Morris Claiborne, who logged 14 pass breakups and two interceptions in 15 starts last year. Since the 29-year-old has yet to sign elsewhere, he could be a late-offseason pickup to fill a wide-open spot on the depth chart. 

    In the meantime, Roberts has gained steam with the current coaching staff, per The Athletic's Connor Hughes.

    "The Jets speak highly of Roberts. They genuinely believe he can be their Week 1 starter. Whether that faith is misplaced will soon be seen, considering the team failed to add a corner in any of the first three rounds."

    Roberts lined up on the perimeter and free safety last season, recording 41 solo tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception. He could find a steady role on the outside, assuming safety Marcus Maye stays healthy after he missed 10 games because of foot, thumb and shoulder injuries in 2018. 

    Brian Poole, a proven slot defender, could push Nickerson to the outside. He's recorded 19 pass breakups, five sacks and four interceptions in three seasons. 

    The Jets selected cornerback Blessuan Austin in the sixth round, but he played only five games between his junior and senior seasons at Rutgers because of knee injuries.

    We'll find out how much the Jets like Roberts as the front-runner to start opposite Johnson. If he falls short on early expectations, Claiborne's name could emerge pending his availability.

Oakland Raiders: Defensive End

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    Oakland Raiders defensive end Arden Key
    Oakland Raiders defensive end Arden KeyD. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Arden Key, Maxx Crosby, Benson Mayowa, Josh Mauro, Quinton Bell

    Raiders fans should be tired of seeing the number 13, which was the team's sack count last year.

    General manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden attempted to address the issue with two long-tenured veterans and three rookie additions at defensive end. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell, the fourth overall pick of the 2019 draft, should start on one end, but there's an open competition on the opposite side. 

    Mayowa suited up for the Silver and Black in 2014 and 2015 and recorded two sacks over those two seasons. He logged four last season alone with the Cardinals.

    Mauro provides inside-out versatility between base and nickel packages, but he brings little to the pass rush with three career sacks in five seasons.

    The Raiders have two quick-twitch defensive ends in Key, who's going into his sophomore season, and Crosby, a rookie out of Eastern Michigan. 

    Key had a difficult time wrapping up ball-carriers and quarterbacks last year, so much so that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther indicated the team wants him to bulk up in the offseason, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic. "We're trying to put a little more muscle mass on him now, so he is in there lifting," he said.

    Following the first day of organized team activities, Gruden shared his goal weight for Key. "We'd like to see Arden, you know, be 260 pounds someday, 257 pounds someday," said the Raiders head coach. "He's working toward that ... He's got to be stronger to be more complete and I think it's going to take a little time."

    Crosby falls into the same category. He's 6'5" and 255 pounds, but one AFC team scout suggested the lean defensive end needs to fill out his frame, per NFL.com's Lance Zierlein

    "When you watch him on tape, it gives off the same vibe as watching a good player's old high school tape before he grew into his body. He's been there for four years and should have filled out more than this in my opinion, but he has some talent." 

    While Ferrell has the ideal size (6'4", 264 lbs) to help out right away, Key and Crosby will need to focus on body and strength conditioning in addition to their on-field performance to win the other starting job at defensive end.

    Bell played wide receiver for three seasons at Prairie View A&M before he transitioned to defensive end this past year. He'll likely need significant development, specifically putting together his pass-rush move set to win matchups against high-level competition.

Philadelphia Eagles: No. 2 Cornerback

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    Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills
    Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jalen MillsMark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox

    Philadelphia needs to tighten up on the back end, seeing as its pass defense ranked 30th in yards allowed in 2018.

    Ronald Darby (ACL) and Mills (foot) finished the last season on injured reserve. There's no guarantee either will be ready by Week 1.

    The former seems like a lock to hold his starting role on the outside when he's healthy, but the same doesn't hold true for the latter. 

    Before a foot injury derailed his 2018 campaign, Mills had an inconsistent showing on the perimeter. He logged eight pass breakups without an interception across eight games.

    Filling in on the outside, Douglas had a solid year with four pass breakups and three interceptions. Maddox flashed versatility lining up out wide, in the slot and at free safety. Jones saw most of his snaps in the slot last season, but he played on the outside at Washington and took some snaps on the perimeter with the Eagles.

    Although Mills has been the primary starter over the last two seasons, he's coming off a shortened, underwhelming year at a position with high former draft picks in backup roles. Jones, a 2017 second-rounder, and Douglas, a 2017 third-rounder, should be in consideration for the perimeter spot. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: No. 2 Wide Receiver

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    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington
    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James WashingtonJoe Sargent/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson

    The decision to trade wideout Antonio Brown to the Raiders elevated JuJu Smith-Schuster to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart and leaves a question mark behind him.

    In a pass-heavy offense, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished with career highs in passing yards (5,129) and touchdowns (34) last season. Will his numbers plummet without Brown?

    Washington recorded 16 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown as a rookie last season, but he'll likely see more targets because of Brown's departure. He'll have to fend off Moncrief, who signed a two-year, $9 million deal with the Steelers this offseason, and Johnson, who Pittsburgh selected in the third round of the draft.

    Moncrief had previous opportunities to solidify himself as the No. 2 wide receiver in Indianapolis and Jacksonville, but he's recorded catch rates below 56 percent each of the last three seasons. Although the five-year veteran has been underwhelming as of late, his experience may help him fill a void at an open position.

    Johnson amassed 135 receptions for 2,235 yards and 23 touchdowns across three seasons at Toledo. He would become an intriguing option with a strong showing at training camp.

San Francisco 49ers: No. 2 Cornerback

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    San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon
    San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello WitherspoonAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett, Tarvarius Moore, Tim Harris

    In 2018, the San Francisco 49ers allowed the second-most passing touchdowns leaguewide. Their defense needs immediate help in the secondary opposite Richard Sherman.

    Witherspoon didn't take significant strides between his rookie and sophomore seasons, which opens the No. 2 cornerback spot for competition. The 2017 third-round pick logged four pass breakups without an interception in coverage last year. 

    This offseason, San Francisco signed Verrett, who's a viable contender to start at corner if healthy. He recorded 12 pass breakups and three interceptions during the 2015 campaign with the Chargers, earning a Pro Bowl invite. However, the 27-year-old has missed 39 games in four seasons because of shoulder, knee and Achilles injuries.

    In 2018, Moore came out of Southern Mississippi as a safety, but he logged two starts at cornerback because Witherspoon missed those outings with a sprained PCL. However, the 2018 third-rounder isn't likely to beat out Witherspoon or Verrett, as he needs to show the coaching staff growth in his ability to handle outside responsibilities. 

    Mostly because of injuries, Harris didn't produce many impact plays over the past three seasons at Virginia. With only two interceptions and six pass breakups during that span, he's a long shot to earn the starting job.

    The 49ers could give Witherspoon a shot to bounce back or rely on Verrett, who's a solid perimeter defender when he's able to take the field.

Seattle Seahawks: Safety

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    Seattle Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson
    Seattle Seahawks safety Tedric ThompsonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Marquise Blair, Tedric Thompson, Delano Hill, Ugochukwu Amadi

    Bradley McDougald, the Seahawks' presumptive starter at one safety position, gives the coaching staff flexibility in their options for the first-unit spot alongside him. The six-year veteran can line up deep or play closer to the box.

    Because of McDougald's versatility, the Seahawks can match him with Blair, who flashed as a downhill defender at Utah. Alternatively, McDougald could play closer to the line of scrimmage with Thompson in deep coverage.

    Hill may also draw interest at free safety, but he played sparingly last season, lining up for 320 defensive snaps. Amadi displayed his ball-hawking skills as both a cornerback and safety at Oregon, logging nine interceptions in four seasons. The rookie fourth-rounder could become a dark-horse candidate to win this position battle or push for a spot in the slot.

    If Blair and Amadi are slow to develop in their rookie seasons, Thompson or Hill will have the opportunity to take a major step forward.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No. 1 Cornerback

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon HargreavesTom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Vernon Hargreaves, Ryan Smith, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean

    In 2018, the Buccaneers snagged nine interceptions—tied for 26th leaguewide with the Cowboys—which suggests their secondary is in desperate need of emerging playmakers.

    The Buccaneers exercised Hargreaves' fifth-year option even though he's tallied only 15 pass breakups and one interception since they drafted him 11th overall in 2016. He hasn't endeared himself to the new coaching staff, though.

    According to the Tampa Bay TimesRick Stroud, head coach Bruce Arians wants him to "get his mind right to practice." That's a bad sign for Hargreaves, who missed all but one game last year with a torn labrum.

    In 2018, Ryan Smith played 40 percent of the defensive snaps and recorded an interception and six pass breakups. He had five pass breakups and two forced fumbles while starting 10 games in 2017, too. He may earn a starting role because of Hargreaves' inability to escape Arians' doghouse.

    The Buccaneers spent two early-round draft picks on cornerbacks Murphy-Bunting (second round) and Dean (third round). According to Greg Auman of The Athletic, they each received first-team reps at OTAs while Hargreaves sat out.

    Dean suffered multiple knee injuries between high school and college, which delayed his development on the field. Still, he recorded 17 pass breakups and two interceptions over the last two years at Auburn.

    At 6'0" and 195 pounds, Murphy-Bunting isn't an imposing presence on the perimeter, but he displayed top-notch ball-tracking skills at Central Michigan, snagging nine interceptions in three seasons. Because of his speed (4.42-second 40-yard time) and long arms (31¾"), he's a tough matchup on the perimeter.

    Based on his skill set and collegiate production, Murphy-Bunting seems like a good bet to open the season with the first unit.

Tennessee Titans: No. 2 Wide Receiver

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    Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown
    Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. BrownMark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Top Contenders: Tajae Sharpe, Taywan Taylor, A.J. Brown

    The Titans passing offense has ranked 23rd or worse in all four seasons with Marcus Mariota under center. While that isn't entirely his fault—Tennessee has boasted strong ground attacks over the last few years—the front office nevertheless must soon decide whether Mariota is the team's quarterback of the future.

    This offseason, the Titans added a few wide receivers to spark the aerial attack. Adam Humphries will likely take over the slot position. Brown, a rookie second-rounder, could open the season on the perimeter. 

    Sharpe started 13 games in 2018, lining up on the inside and outside, while Taylor started five. Neither stretched the field consistently, as both averaged fewer than 13 yards per catch.

    Brown ran crisp routes at Ole Miss and led the program in receiving yards over the last two seasons. At 6'0" and 226 pounds with a 4.49-second 40 time, he could crack the starting lineup as a game-changer. 

    The rookie wideout has the quickness in his release off the line of scrimmage to beat press coverage and possesses the foot speed to rack up extra yards after the catch.

Washington Redskins: Quarterback

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    Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins
    Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne HaskinsPatrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Top Contenders: Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy, Case Keenum

    The quarterback battle will undoubtedly dominate the headlines in Washington. 

    Alex Smith remains out indefinitely, so he's excluded from the competition. McCoy suffered a setback while recovering from a fractured fibula, but he's expected to fully participate in training camp, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

    Washington acquired Keenum this offseason via a trade with Denver, but he had an unimpressive 2018 campaign. The 31-year-old recorded a 47.9 QBR, which was significantly lower than the 74.3 rating he had with the Vikings in 2017.

    All eyes will follow Haskins, who generated positive buzz at rookie minicamp. Head coach Jay Gruden praised the Ohio State product while speaking with reporters afterward.

    "We're at the very bare minimum right now, but very impressed by his skillset for sure. Can really spin it. He's just a big, solid, fundamentally sound guy. He's just a big presence in there and the ball just jumps off his hand. He also has the ability to speed it up and he has great touch, as well, for some of the short balls." 

    Washington selected Haskins with the 15th overall pick in this year's draft. He looks like the future for this team at quarterback, but he'll have to beat two veterans to earn the job this year.