Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle in 2021

Alex KayContributor IMay 28, 2021

Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle in 2021

0 of 32

    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Now that the NFL draft is over and almost every notable free agent has been signed, the next offseason milestone is training camp.

    Teams have already begun rookie minicamps and OTAs, but training camp can't begin until July 21 for first-year players, July 23 for quarterbacks and injured players, and July 28 for the rest of the league's veterans. Organizations will be tinkering with their rosters in the weeks leading up to camp, loading up on players to compete for a variety of roles during the 2021 campaign.

    Some of these competitions will be minor, with players battling for a depth position that might not even see the field this season. Others are critical, with starting jobs up for grabs that could have a significant impact on how a team fares.

    This article will focus on the latter, highlighting some of the most important and exciting positional showdowns on the horizon. With that in mind, here's the most critical training camp battle for every team in the league.

Arizona Cardinals: Wide Receiver

1 of 32

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals are sure of their top receiving option in DeAndre Hopkins, but the depth chart behind Nuk is rather unclear.

    The situation was further muddied when the club took wideout Rondale Moore in the second round, as the Purdue product will compete with Christian Kirk—now going into his fourth campaign with the club—and free-agent acquisition A.J. Green, a seven-time Pro Bowler, for snaps. Andy Isabella will also be in the mix after earning more snaps in the slot last season.

    Kirk is a frontrunner to win the No. 2 job, claiming that he’s ready to live up to his immense potential on the field this year (via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com):

    "I feel like there is a lot I want to prove to myself and there is a lot I want to prove to the league. I say it every year: I'm only scratching the surface of my potential and I still believe that. I know my best football is ahead of me…But I'm kind of over the part of talking about it. I've put in the work this offseason. My mindset this season is, talk less, show more."

    While the competition will be fierce, it's a positive situation for quarterback Kyler Murray to be in. The signal-caller is expected to make a leap in 2021 after he nearly guided this organization to the playoffs in Year 2. With more experience under his belt and an improved receiving corps to lean on this season, the Cardinals aerial attack should be in good shape no matter how this camp battle plays out.

Atlanta Falcons: Running Back

2 of 32

    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons running back platoon appears devoid of any elite talent, but that could change this season.

    The most recognizable player at the position is Mike Davis, who served as Christian McCaffrey's backup for the last season-and-a-half in Carolina before signing with Atlanta this offseason. Davis—who amassed a respectable 642 yards and six touchdowns on 165 totes and added an additional two scores and 373 yards on 59 catches last year—is penciled in as the team's starter, but he'll be pushed by a pair of undrafted free agents in Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley.

    Hawkins was a star at Louisville despite his small 5'8", 183-pound stature. He's coming off a campaign in which he racked up 822 yards and seven scores on 133 carries in just eight games and could serve as a great change-of-pace option for the Falcons. Huntley is more suited to shoulder a heavier load at 5'10", 229 pounds. He was used as a bell cow at Ball State, averaging nearly 22 carries per game since 2019.

    Atlanta's backfield will also return Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James, both of whom could cut into Davis' touches. There is plenty of potential here, but it remains to be seen which players will emerge as viable NFL options in 2021. Expect some clarity to finally come in training camp.

Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver

3 of 32

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens have been struggling to get much out of their receiving corps, an issue that has been compounded by the lack of opportunity in an offense that runs the ball far more than any other.

    The team's top two options this season should be Marquise Brown and free-agency pickup Sammy Watkins, with first-round pick Rashod Bateman also in line to earn a prominent role. Miles Boykins, Devin Duvernay and Tylan Wallace—a fourth-round pick this year—should also easily make the roster, while guys like James Proche II, Deon Cain, Donte Sylencieux and Binjimen Victor will all battle for the sixth receiver position.

    There's an outside chance that Baltimore brings in Julio Jones as well, as the team has been linked to the superstar wideout in trade talks. A player of his caliber would instantly elevate this offense, but it would come at a high cost in both salary and assets.

    If Brown can live up to his potential—something the team is banking on him to do in Year 3—and Bateman is as pro-ready as advertised, the Ravens should see their passing attack improve significantly in 2021.

    Watkins is a solid No. 2 option if he can stay on the field, but avoiding injury has proved difficult for the veteran during his up-and-down NFL career. Fortunately, there is plenty of promising depth behind him, with an intriguing training camp battle likely to determine the player who will fill in if a starter goes down.

Buffalo Bills: Tight End

4 of 32

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    After getting torched by Kansas City's Travis Kelce twice last year, Buffalo Bills brass admitted the roster lacked a playmaking tight end and vowed to address it this offseason.  

    In the aftermath of the Bills' loss to the Chiefs in the AFC championship, general manager Brandon Beane told reporters the following about his team's tight end situation:

    "At the end of the day, we'd love to have a guy like what we just faced in Kansas City—they don't come very often. But that's what we want. We've got some guys here we want to continue to develop and see what happens. Obviously, if there's ways to add competition, whether that's in free agency or the draft, we would do that, as well."

    Unfortunately, Buffalo hasn't added any marquee tight ends. The draft class was light on elite prospects outside of Kyle Pitts, who went No. 4 overall, and the club whiffed on top free agents like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.

    In 2021, the Bills will likely continue to start Dawson Knox, a third-round pick in 2019 who has amassed 676 yards and five touchdowns on 52 catches in his career thus far. Jacob Hollister, a free-agent pickup, will be worked in as a pass-catcher, and undrafted free agent Quintin Morris—a converted receiver out of Bowling Green—will be competing for a roster spot as well.

    A leap from Knox would help the Bills round out a promising offense, but until then, this will remain one of their weaker positions.

Carolina Panthers: Guard

5 of 32

    Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers revamped their offensive line following the 2020 campaign, making several free-agency signings and rookie additions to bolster the trenches. The team will try to rehabilitate quarterback Sam Darnold's career after trading for him, so pass protection is a priority.

    There should be an open competition for both guard spots as part of this new-look line. As of now, offseason signing Pat Elflein is the favorite to man the left guard position with incumbent right guard John Miller at the right.

    Much could change in training camp, however, as there are a multitude of viable guard candidates on the roster, the most intriguing of whom is Deonte Brown. The Alabama product, who dropped all the way to the sixth round after struggling with his weight at Tuscaloosa, had already lost 18 pounds by late March—something that should help him contend for a big role with the Panthers.

    Dennis Daley and Mike Horton are also in the mix but would need to impress considerably during training camp to steal a starting job. That they'll likely end up as depth options is a testament to the strides this offensive line has made in recent months.

Chicago Bears: Quarterback

6 of 32

    David Banks/Associated Press

    Despite finally securing a potential franchise quarterback in the draft, the Chicago Bears may still turn to a veteran to run their offense to start the 2021 season.

    Head coach Matt Nagy is on the record in stating that Andy Dalton—who agreed to a one-year deal in free agency—will be the starter over Justin Fields, the Ohio State star whom the club traded up to get with the No. 11 overall pick.

    "Andy is the starter," Nagy told reporters. "Andy's going to get the one reps."

    While some may believe that is coach speak and the team could turn to Fields right away, it appears Nagy is being sincere. He recently cited his time as the Chiefs offensive coordinator, reminding everyone that Kansas City leaned on Alex Smith to start in 2017 while Patrick Mahomes was brought up to speed.

    Nagy did mention that the team wants to utilize both quarterbacks this year, however, saying the coaching staff will implement strategies for each in the playbook. Nick Foles is also still on the roster, but barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances, the Super Bowl MVP isn't likely to see the field.

    Fields has the talent to be the next star quarterback in this league—giving the Bears the elite player under center it has long lacked—but he'll need a standout training camp to usurp Dalton at the top of the depth chart.

Cincinnati Bengals: Guard

7 of 32

    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals struggled to protect quarterback Joe Burrow last year before the No. 1 overall pick went down with a torn ACL 10 games into his rookie season. Burrow is expected to fully recover in time to start the 2021 opener, so keeping him upright will be paramount.

    Some fans were upset the Bengals didn't capitalize on their chance to draft Penei Sewell, the top left tackle prospect in the draft, at No. 5 overall. The club instead went with Ja'Marr Chase to supercharge the passing game, but this offense will struggle to reach its potential if Burrow is constantly under siege.

    The offensive line training camp battles will be extremely critical to Cincinnati's success this year, as the team needs to maximize its talent in the trenches. A healthy Jonah Williams could be the long-term solution at left tackle, veteran free-agent pickup Riley Reiff should handle the right tackle job, and Trey Hopkins will likely be the No. 1 center, but both guard positions are up for grabs.

    As of now, the Bengals will have to pick a pair of starters from a group that includes Michael Jordan, Quinton Spain, Xavier Su'a-Filo and second-round pick Jackson Carman. Carman should be a starter at one guard spot, while Spain is a favorite to fill the open position opposite the rookie. 

    Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey called this one of the most improved offensive lines in football, which should translate to heightened production on the field this year. With plenty of starting-caliber linemen and depth to spare, Cincinnati will have some fierce battles in camp to determine a pecking order.

Cleveland Browns: Cornerback

8 of 32

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    One of the most exciting positional battles in football will occur during Cleveland Browns training camp, where the second starting corner job will be up for grabs between Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome II.

    It is an enviable situation for the Browns, who already have a rock-solid No. 1 corner in Denzel Ward.

    Williams—a second-round pick in 2019—started 12 games as a rookie and was ready to resume those duties last year before a shoulder injury cost him the entire 2020 campaign. He will have his work cut out to reclaim his spot with the first string, as he now must beat out a player whom Cleveland took with the No 26 overall pick this year.

    Newsome, a lengthy and athletic corner who is skilled in both man and zone coverage, was regarded as one of the best defensive back prospects in his class. He should have the edge against Williams, who will have a lot of catching up to do after such a long layoff.

    Regardless of how it plays out, the Browns should wind up with one of the most enviable secondaries in the NFL and find plenty of opportunity to deploy Ward, Williams and Newsome simultaneously.

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive End

9 of 32

    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys struggled to consistently generate pressure against opposing quarterbacks in 2020, accruing a pedestrian 31 sacks and 10 interceptions on the season. Their overhauled defense—headlined by the acquisition of linebacker Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick—should perform much better this year, but the defensive end position remains largely unchanged.

    The Cowboys will still rely on DeMarcus Lawrence as an every-down disruptor, while Randy Gregory should also continue to rotate in on the edge. Free-agent signing Brent Urban is a bit of a wild card, as he could move inside or play on the end, having done both during his six-year career.

    Dallas is likely to carry five defensive ends in total, which leaves Bradlee Anae, Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Ron'Dell Carter, Chauncey Golston and Carlos Watkins to fight for the remaining spots on the roster.

    None of these players have accomplished much of note thus far, with Basham the most proven of the bunch. He's never recorded more than 3.5 sacks in a season, though, and is far from a lock to make the roster.

    While this may not be the most exciting battle for outsiders to pay attention to, sorting this situation out will be crucial in determining Dallas' success on that side of the ball.

Denver Broncos: Quarterback

10 of 32

    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos appear to have the talent to make the playoffs, but they need a quarterback to take them there.

    After 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock disappointed during the first two years of his career, the Broncos finally traded for a veteran to push him for the starting job. The club acquired Teddy Bridgewater from the Panthers, getting a player with 49 starts under his belt who managed the game well during previous stops with the Vikings and Saints.

    The team intends to give both signal-callers an equal shot at earning the coveted QB1 job, with head coach Vic Fangio stating each will get 50 percent of the first-team reps in camp and joking he might have to flip a coin to determine who gets the first crack at it.

    There are benefits to both players, with Lock still offering upside as he enters a pivotal Year 3 and Bridgewater having shown he can be a steady presence for a playoff-bound team. The 28-year-old memorably took over for an injured Drew Brees in New Orleans in 2019, guiding the Saints to a perfect 5-0 record until the future Hall of Famer was ready to return to the lineup.

    After being hamstrung by poor QB play ever since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos are desperately hoping this training camp battle will bring the best out of both options. This veteran-laden roster has a chance to make a run; it just needs a steady hand under center to lead the way.

Detroit Lions: Wide Receiver

11 of 32

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    There are no illusions about the Detroit Lions contending this year after the organization opted to go full steam ahead on a rebuilding effort this offseason.

    The team has a new general manager, a new head coach and new faces all over the field, including at quarterback after trading longtime starter Matthew Stafford. New QB Jared Goff might have a difficult time adjusting to life in the Motor City, as the club let Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay—its top two receivers for the past few seasons—walk in free agency.

    The Lions did acquire some veteran talent this offseason, but Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and Kalif Raymond are all clear downgrades from the departed wideouts. They are penciled in as the top options for now but will be competing with players like fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown, second-year veteran Quintez Cephus and undrafted rookie Jonathan Adams Jr. 

    Head coach Dan Campbell expects a highly competitive training camp during which players will have to earn their role on the team. Because of this, the Detroit depth chart, including the wide receivers, could look much different come fall.

Green Bay Packers: Cornerback

12 of 32

    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers were having a relatively quiet offseason until Aaron Rodgers made shockwaves by announcing he didn’t want to return to the team. If the organization can convince Rodgers to walk back that decision, the Green Bay lineup shouldn’t look all that much different in 2021.

    One key difference could be the cornerback position, which was a liability during the 2020 playoffs. Kevin King, the team’s No. 2 corner last year, was exposed in the NFC Championship Game, giving up big plays that ultimately cost the Packers a chance at competing for a Super Bowl.

    While Green Bay retained King on a one-year deal this offseason, the club used its first-round selection on defensive back Eric Stokes. The Georgia product is an explosive athlete who ran a blazing 4.25 40-yard dash at his pro day.

    Stokes gives the Packers elite speed and skill, but it remains to be seen if he is ready to beat out King for the starting job across from Jaire Alexander. This will be an important camp battle to watch, one that should elevate the entire secondary to a more competitive level and provide quality depth for a postseason push in 2021.

Houston Texans: Cornerback

13 of 32

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans have question marks up and down the roster, but the cornerback position sticks out as an especially dire situation. 

    The Texans struggled with depth last year and didn’t get much quality cornerback play from the guys they did have on the field last year. 16-game starter Vernon Hargreaves III graded out at a dismal 41.2 and Phillip Gaines, who helped fill the void after Bradley Robey went down with an injury, only earned a 59.9 grade according to PFF.

    Houston failed to address the secondary during the 2021 draft, but did attempt to bolster the position by signing a pair of veteran defensive backs in free agency. Desmond King and Terrance Mitchell unfortunately aren’t the type of players who will have a massive impact on a slumping defense though. 

    The Texans could keep incumbents Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargreaves III as starters, but Mitchell has a decent chance to usurp one of them, and King may emerge as well.

    The competition for these roles should be wide-open during camp while new head coach David Culley tinkers with a lineup that needs help nearly across the board.

Indianapolis Colts: Left Tackle

14 of 32

    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts enjoyed stability at the left tackle position for nearly a decade, but Anthony Castonzo's decision to retire following the 2020 campaign put an end to that. The organization must now attempt to unearth another stalwart at one of the most important positions on the field.

    The Colts appear to at least have a stopgap in place for the upcoming season, signing Eric Fisher following his release from the Chiefs. The 30-year-old is coming off a torn Achilles, however, an injury that may impact his availability early in the season. Fisher has only participated in 23 games over the last two seasons, so Indianapolis must have a solid backup plan in place in case its new left tackle can't suit up.

    With Sam Tevi and Julie'n Davenport listed behind Fisher on the depth chart, the situation doesn't look very promising right now. Tevi only converted to left tackle last year after playing his first three seasons on the right for the Chargers, while Davenport lost his starting job with the Dolphins in 2020.

    Ideally, one of these players will prove to be a capable starter during camp in the event he is needed to assume the role early in the campaign if Fisher isn't ready.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Tight End

15 of 32

    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars' current crop of tight ends includes Tyler Davis, Ben Ellefson, Luke Farrell, Chris Manhertz and James O'Shaughnessy, all players who can block but don't offer much, if any, value as playmakers.

    O’Shaughnessy was the most serviceable of the bunch in that role last year, but only accounted for a meager 28 catches for 262 yards and no touchdowns. The Jaguars are now so desperate for a pass-catching tight end that they recently signed Tim Tebow.

    Tebow, who played quarterback for Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer at Florida, hasn't seen action in the regular season in nearly a decade and spent the last half-decade playing minor league baseball. It speaks to just how dire this situation is that the Jags are willing to convert Tebow to tight end in an effort to improve their most glaring position of need.

    This Hail Mary is one risk Jacksonville had to take after missing out on all the top free agents and draft prospects. It's extremely likely this offense will once again be devoid of a tight end who can contribute in the passing game, but at least it will be a fun training camp to watch as Tebow tries to catch on as the team's best receiving option at the position.

Kansas City Chiefs: Right Guard

16 of 32

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs squandered a chance to win back-to-back Super Bowls after the offensive line imploded on the biggest stage. Team brass made it a priority to overhaul the entire unit this offseason, recently completing a series of acquisitions that could result in five new starters during the 2021 campaign.

    Orlando Brown Jr. is certain to man the left tackle spot considering the club gave up a first-round pick for his services, Joe Thuney is a slam-dunk left guard starter after signing a five-year, $80 million deal, and Creed Humphrey is likely to be the top center after the Chiefs took him in the second round of the draft.

    The right portion of the line isn't as solidified as the left. Kansas City will likely use training camp to determine who wins both the guard and tackle jobs here, with the battle at right guard being especially intriguing.

    Kyle Long, who came out of retirement to join the Chiefs, will be one of the top contenders, but the Chiefs have Laurent Duvernay-Tardif under contract as well. Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the 2020 campaign but is returning to the team this offseason and could very well win his starting gig back.

    If Long doesn't start at right guard, he could slot in as a right tackle. He won't have an easy time cracking the rotation there, either, as Lucas Niang and Mike Remmers are quite capable in that role and will be fighting for the starting job as well.

    No matter how these training camp bouts play out, the Chiefs look absolutely loaded in the trenches and will have the depth to withstand injuries as they prepare to make a run to a third consecutive title game.

Las Vegas Raiders: Wide Receiver

17 of 32

    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders have leaned on tight end Darren Waller to serve as their top receiving weapon for the last two seasons, but that could change this year if Henry Ruggs III lives up to his potential.

    After Ruggs became the first wideout off the board in last year's draft, he wasn't a big contributor. The speedster dealt with injuries that limited him to 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games.

    Vegas needs Ruggs to be a playmaker, as there isn't much proven talent behind him. Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, John Brown, Zay Jones, Willie Snead IV and undrafted free agent Dillon Stoner will all be jostling for targets during training camp, but none possess Ruggs' game-breaking potential.

    If the Raiders are going to keep pace in a stacked AFC West, some of these other wideouts will need to become reliable weapons for quarterback Derek Carr. 

Los Angeles Chargers: Kicker

18 of 32

    David Becker/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers lacked a reliable kicker last year, a glaring issue that must be rectified if this team is to emerge as a contender in 2021.

    Michael Badgley was automatic within 40 yards—connecting on all 30 attempts up to that distance—but he was a liability from long range. The third-year man out of Miami missed seven of his 26 attempts between 40 and 49 yards and went just 3-of-9 from 50-plus yards.

    The Bolts will need a kicker who can convert more regularly from 40-plus. As such, they brought in Tristan Vizcaino and Alex Kessman to push the incumbent during training camp.

    Vizcaino only saw action in one game as a rookie with the 49ers last year but went 3-of-3—including a 47-yard make—in that contest. Kessman is an undrafted rookie who connected on four of his five attempts from 50-plus yards as a senior with Pittsburgh last season.

    L.A. can't afford to leave points on the board again, so having a competitive camp during which a quality long-distance kicker can emerge will be a major boon.

Los Angeles Rams: Center

19 of 32

    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams made the puzzling decision to let incumbent starting center Austin Blythe walk in free agency, where he signed a one-year deal worth less than $1 million with the Chiefs. That left the team without a proven option to snap the ball, but L.A. does have some candidates to take up the mantle.

    Austin Corbett, the team's starting right guard in 2020, has been spotted lining up at center during OTAs. Brian Allen started nine games in 2019 before suffering an MCL injury that ended his season, but he could resume starting for the club this year.

    Coleman Shelton is a dark horse to win the job, but he's been a backup during his two years with the team, having seen the field for just 23 offensive snaps.

    If Corbett moves to center full time, the team will likely deploy Bobby Evans at right guard. He started seven games at right tackle in 2019 but saw just a single offensive snap last year while working as a depth option.

Miami Dolphins: Running Back

20 of 32

    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins offense appears poised for a breakout, although the team failed to truly upgrade at running back.

    Myles Gaskin is returning as Miami's top rusher from last season and will probably resume that role. He appeared in 10 games as a sophomore last year, garnering 584 yards and three touchdowns on 142 rushes while adding 388 yards and a pair of scores on 41 receptions.

    Although the 5'10", 194-pound Gaskin is a bit undersized to be a workhorse, a handful of backs can help shoulder the load.

    Salvon Ahmed should get some work after impressing as a rookie, a year that included a 122-yard outing against the Patriots in Week 15. Malcolm Brown, a veteran coming off a career-best 419-yard, five-touchdown campaign with the Rams, signed in Miami this offseason as well. 

    While this may not be the flashiest running back platoon, it should be effective enough. A wide-open training camp should only improve the situation by establishing a clear hierarchy.

Minnesota Vikings: Special Teams

21 of 32

    David Berding/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings will be working overtime to improve all facets of their special teams during training camp.

    At kicker, they brought in undrafted rookie Riley Patterson to push Greg Joseph. The latter signed with the club in February after spending time on Tampa Bay's practice squad last year. Joseph hasn't seen regular action since 2018 with the Browns, when he made 17 of 20 field-goal attempts. Patterson connected on 77.1 percent of his field-goal attempts in college and has a strong leg that could steal the job.

    Britton Colquitt and Zach Von Rosenberg will go head-to-head for the punter gig, a role that Colquitt has held since 2019. He was blocked twice last season, however, and had his lowest average punt distance since 2015. Von Rosenberg, a former baseball pitching prospect, is a 30-year-old rookie who impressed at LSU and had quite a journey to the NFL.

    Minnesota will pit Andrew DePaola and Turner Bernard against each other for long-snapping duties, and Kene Nwangwu and Ihmir Smith-Marsette could win a job returning kicks.

    The Vikings are clearly taking special teams seriously this season and should improve in that area after this loaded training camp.

New England Patriots: Quarterback

22 of 32

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Mac Jones, the Alabama product who was projected by some analysts to go as high as No. 3 overall, fell to the New England Patriots at No. 15. The selection gives the Pats a potential heir to Tom Brady and hope for the future after a disappointing first season with Cam Newton at the helm.

    While head coach Bill Belichick is saying that Newton—who reupped for the 2021 campaign this offseason—will remain the starter, Jones is considered one of, if not the most, pro-ready quarterbacks in his class. He played in a similar scheme in Tuscaloosa and shouldn't have too much trouble picking up offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system.

    It's clear that Newton, who recently turned 32 years old, isn't the long-term answer. The sooner that Jones wins the starting job, the sooner New England can get back to contending for championships. That could happen as early as this training camp, as Jones possesses the talent to become a Week 1 starter.

New Orleans Saints: Cornerback

23 of 32

    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints are thin at cornerback, even though the group's only notable offseason loss was the release of Janoris Jenkins.

    The club has a decent number of corners under contract, but no one outside Marshon Lattimore is guaranteed a roster spot. The most promising of the bunch is third-round pick Paulson Adebo, who may be thrust into a big role as a rookie.

    Two other first-year players will contend for a job in camp, but neither Bryce Thompson nor Lawrence Woods were drafted. Thompson has a better shot at cracking the roster, given he had a productive career at Tennessee and showed flashes as an NFL-caliber playmaker in college.

    Ken Crawley has been a quality backup for the organization and could take on those duties again in 2021 but hasn't proved capable of being a consistent starter over five seasons.

    The club may need to dip back into the open market to find a reliable No. 2 across from Lattimore, especially if Adebo shows he isn't ready to be a starter during camp.

New York Giants: Right Tackle

24 of 32

    Vera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    The New York Giants have a tough decision at right tackle, choosing between an aging veteran and a raw but promising second-year talent.

    Going into training camp, the starting job is between Nate Solder and Matt Peart. The veteran, who signed a $62 million deal in 2018 to be Big Blue's left tackle, opted out of the 2020 campaign but will return for 2021. Peart is coming off an up-and-down rookie year that saw him spend time on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

    Solder is only hanging around the Big Apple because he took a pay cut, but he'll have to prove he can translate his game to the right side after playing most of his pro career on the left. He was mediocre at best on the blind side in 2019, but the 33-year-old could be rejuvenated after an extended layoff.

    Peart has experience at right tackle after logging 150 snaps at the position last year, but his pass protection leaves quite a bit to be desired. If he can improve in that department, the G-Men may have a long-term solution. If not, Solder will likely be the better option for the 2021 campaign while Peart develops or a better replacement is found.

New York Jets: Wide Receiver

25 of 32

    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Palpable excitement surrounds the New York Jets, as the team made a splash in free agency and drafted a potential franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson.

    The No. 2 pick will have an opportunity to succeed as a rookie thanks to some shrewd moves to acquire wideouts. Those pickups include Corey Davis and second-round rookie Elijah Moore, a pair of players who will revitalize a receiving corps that was largely bereft of talent last year.

    In addition, the Jets also have Denzel Mims—a second-round pick in 2020—and steady veteran Jamison Crowder. These four should serve as the club's most consistent receiving weapons, but Keelan Cole, Vyncint Smith, D.J. Montgomery and Lawrence Cager are all in the running to carve out some snaps during camp.

    Camp should bring some clarity to the pecking order here, which is far from set in stone. The battle could get even more interesting if Crowder ends up becoming a salary cap casualty as some are predicting, a real possibility given the team can save $10 million by moving on from the veteran this offseason.  

Philadelphia Eagles: Running Back

26 of 32

    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles running back room is crowded, but it should clear out quickly after a hierarchy is determined.

    Miles Sanders is the presumed lead back because of his talent and productivity when healthy. But he missed four games last year and could see his workload cut into.

    Some of his competition will come from Boston Scott, last year's backup who will return for his fourth season. The rest of that competition will come via veterans Jordan Howard and Kerryon Johnson and rookies like fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell.

    Other holdovers—Adrian Killins Jr., Elijah Holyfield and Jason Huntley were all with the club in 2020—could evolve this year as well. The Eagles will have to pare down their running back number to three or four before the campaign kicks off, which should make this an important camp battle.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Center

27 of 32

    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    It isn't easy to replace a potential Hall of Famer, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to do exactly that by finding a starting center to fill in for the retired Maurkice Pouncey.

    They will likely give B.J. Finney, J.C. Hassenauer and rookie Kendrick Green each a look during training camp. Hassenauer is the longest shot to win the starting job, as he played poorly when thrust into a starting role last year, grading out at a 57.7 and drawing five penalties in just 303 snaps according to PFF.

    Finney and Green are both more viable options. Finney recently re-signed with the club he started his career with after a one-year stint with the Seahawks and Bengals in 2020, but he failed to see the field on offense for either team. He's familiar with the Steelers' schemes, however, and has a leg up on winning the job over Green because of his knowledge alone.

    Even if Green fails to win the starting job right away, the third-round pick out of Illinois will assume the role sooner than later. He isn't an elite prospect but showed the versatility in college to play both guard and center at a respectable level. Once he adjusts to the speed of the NFL rush and learns the intricacies of the center position, he should be a surefire starter.

San Francisco 49ers: Running Back

28 of 32

    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are entering a new era after drafting quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3. Still, they may stick with incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021. For now, the team has a more pressing training camp battle to sort out at running back.

    The position has a logjam with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty all returning and Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell getting selected by the club during the draft.

    Sermon, the No. 88 pick, will be a key player to watch as he pushes Mostert for the starting job. The 22-year-old is an electrifying runner with elite athleticism but didn't make much of an impact as a receiver out of the backfield in college, catching just 48 passes in four years at Oklahoma and Ohio State.

    Mostert, 29, is coming off an injury-plagued campaign that saw him suit up for just eight games. The team will likely start moving on from the aging and rather unreliable back this season, giving more carries to Wilson and working Sermon into the rotation. Mitchell has a chance to contribute as well, but his earning a role will be heavily dependent on a strong camp performance.

Seattle Seahawks: Cornerback

29 of 32

    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks lost a pair of cornerbacks in free agency when Shaquill Griffin took a three-year, $40 million offer from the Jaguars and Quinton Dunbar inked with the Lions. They replaced Griffin by signing Ahkello Witherspoon but lack battle-tested veterans.

    One player to watch is fourth-rounder Tre Brown, a talented but undersized rookie (5'10", 185 lbs) who doesn't fit the typical mold of a defensive back on a Pete Carroll-coached squad. Brown will likely play the nickel in Seattle, while the second outside job is wide open.

    D.J. Reed is an in-house option to assume those duties. He is going into his fourth year as a pro and second with the Seahawks, having played 10 games for the club last year—starting eight—during which he recorded 62 tackles and a pair of interceptions.

    Seattle also has Tre Flowers and Pierre Desir under contract, while rookie Bryan Mills looks like a post-draft steal. Mills, a big, athletic corner at 6'1", 174 pounds, is a long shot to start early in his career but could feature heavily into the team's plans.

    Realistically, the Seahawks should eye the available free agents and try to acquire one more proven veteran before the regular season begins.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback

30 of 32

    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into their Super Bowl-winning campaign with a lot of question marks in the secondary but saw cornerback become a strength.

    A pair of second-year players in Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting were significant contributors to that championship. They complemented starter Carlton Davis—who emerged as one of the NFL's top defensive backs—and backup Ross Cockrell well, setting up a must-see training camp battle this offseason.

    The four returning corners will be joined by seventh-round draft pick Chris Wilcox, undrafted free agent Cameron Kinley and veteran Antonio Hamilton.

    Only one of those three is likely to crack the final roster, which should make for a fierce competition. Wilcox has the most upside, but Kinley has looked strong out of the gate. The Navy product earned praise from SI.com’s Zach Goodall, who said Kinley is standing out more than any other prospect at Tampa’s rookie mini-camp.  Hamilton is the safest choice, but he's never played more than 135 defensive snaps in any of his five years as a pro.     

Tennessee Titans: Wide Receiver

31 of 32

    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Corey Davis, the No. 5 overall pick in 2017, signed with the Jets this offseason. His departure—plus the loss of slot receiver Adam Humphries—leaves the Tennessee Titans' wide receiver cupboard a bit bare outside star A.J. Brown.

    While the Titans are a fit for trade candidate Julio Jones—with running back Derrick Henry openly campaigning for the club to acquire the elite receiver—the odds are against the team making the finances work.

    It's more likely the club goes to war with the players it has at the position, a group that includes Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Josh Reynolds, fourth-round pick Dez Fitzpatrick, sixth-round pick Racey McMath and a handful of others. The Titans also recently signed Tajae Sharpe after his release from the Chiefs last week.

    While Brown and Reynolds should be surefire starters, the depth behind them is extremely murky. Fitzpatrick has a great chance to crack the roster after the club used an early Day 3 pick on the Louisville product.   

Washington Football Team: Safety

32 of 32

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team spent big bucks on Landon Collins to shore up safety in 2019, but the squad didn't skip a beat when the veteran went down with a torn Achilles last year.

    After Kam Curl, a seventh-round rookie, picked up the slack at a high level, the team must figure out what to do when Collins returns this offseason. Six other safeties are under contract, a group that includes Troy Apke, Deshazor Everett, Darrick Forrest, Bobby McCain, Chris Miller and Jeremy Reaves.

    Washington wouldn't dismiss a capable player like Reaves and will want Collins on the field, leaving Miller, Apke and fifth-round rookie Forrest fighting for what is likely to be the final safety spot.


    Statistics via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.