Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle in 2022May 27, 2022
Every NFL Team's Most Important Training Camp Battle in 2022
The NFL's focus is shifting from player acquisition to player competition as free agency gives way to OTAs.
The start of team activities means training camps aren't that far away, and depth charts will start coming into focus.
Teams have spent the offseason adding to their roster and retaining key pieces, but jobs are won and lost on the field. Each franchise has at least one important role that will be up for grabs, and the competition often brings out the best in players.
Here, we'll take a look at the most important of those battles for each team. Whether it's because of the importance of the position, an area on the team that needs to be improved from last season, or the team is looking to replace a key starter, these battles will be important to sort out for each team to have the best possible campaign in 2022.
Arizona Cardinals: Edge
Chandler Jones was the biggest loss for the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, so it makes sense the competition to replace him will be the most important one during training camp.
To replace Jones' production, the Cardinals used two third-round picks on San Diego State's Cameron Thomas and Cincinnati's Myjai Sanders. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury expects both to help shoulder the load.
"It's impossible to replace a Hall of Fame rusher like Chandler, we know that," Kingsbury said, per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. "But as a unit and schematically, we've got to be able to find that production somehow. I think those guys will all add to it."
Thomas was highly productive at San Diego State, recording 71 tackles (20.5 for loss) and 11.5 sacks in his final season with the Aztecs. Sanders produced just 2.5 sacks but may have been miscast at Cincinnati, as he was asked to play on the interior more than he likely will in Arizona.
Devon Kennard is the veteran who will also be in the mix to start opposite Markus Golden. He only played 28 percent of the snaps last season.
Atlanta Falcons: Linebacker
Marcus Mariota's comfort with Arthur Smith and his offense from their days in Tennessee will probably keep him from getting into a legitimate quarterback battle with Desmond Ridder for the time being. However, everything about what the Falcons have done this offseason says the inside linebacker positions on the depth chart are wide open.
Pro Bowler Deion Jones has little job security after his 2021 campaign. He was a frequent target in the passing game giving up 584 yards and five touchdowns in coverage.
The Falcons let Foyesade Oluokun walk and used both free agency and the draft to bring in new blood. They signed Rashaan Evans early in free agency and used a second-round draft pick on an uber-athletic prospect in Troy Andersen.
Since then, they've added Nick Kwiatkoski, a former starter for the Bears and Raiders.
Add in Mykal Walker, who has shown promise in eight starts over the last two seasons, and the Falcons have a lot of options to consider.
If the Falcons feel comfortable with their new additions, it could make Jones expendable. A new start with another team might be best for both parties, and the Falcons could get a draft pick in return to continue their rebuild.
Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver
As Lamar Jackson enters the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, he does so with a concerning lack of weapons in the passing game. The Green Bay Packer have been questioned for their slow approach to adding receiver talent, but the Ravens are even more baffling.
After trading away Marquise Brown for a first-round pick, the Ravens elected not to draft a wide receiver in the 2022 NFL draft.
That leaves second-year receiver Rashod Bateman as the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver. After that, it gets a little murky.
Devin Duvernay is the most productive player of the incumbent receiving corps, catching 33 balls for 272 yards and two touchdowns last season. James Proche II and Tylan Wallace round out the rest of the group.
Makai Polk is a name to keep an eye on. He was one of six undrafted free agent wide receivers the Ravens signed after the draft. He received a draftable grade from the Bleacher Report Scouting Department and has a path to playing time.
Mark Andrews is an elite tight end, and Rashod Bateman has the potential to break out in Year 2. However, this offense still needs a third option, and someone has to claim the role in camp.
Buffalo Bills: Running Back
The Buffalo Bills boast one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, but the running back rotation remains interesting.
While the offense revolves around Josh Allen, it needs to develop a backfield that can take some pressure off the quarterback. Last season, Allen carried the ball a career-high 122 times for 763 yards.
Devin Singletary will likely start the season as the lead back. He had some of his best games toward the end of the season, including 81 yards on 16 carries for two touchdowns against the New England Patriots in the Wild Card round.
There's plenty of competition, though. Zack Moss returns after a disappointing second season, and the team signed Duke Johnson, who could be in a pass-catching role. 2022 second-round draft pick James Cook is the most interesting addition, though.
General manager Brandon Beane has already praised Cook's ability to help Allen in the passing game.
"This guy is a RAC player for Josh. Get the ball in his hands and make a guy miss. And then he's got the wheels to take it all the way," he said, per Alaina Gretzenberg of ESPN.com.
If Cook can help ease the burden for Allen in the run game, he'll overtake Singletary as early as training camp.
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback
The Carolina Panthers have multiple roles that will be up for grabs at training camp but none more than quarterback. If Matt Rhule is going to have success in Carolina and extend his time as the head coach, the next signal-caller will have to be more productive than what the position mustered last year.
Sam Darnold started 11 games last season, with Cam Newton starting five and P.J. Walker starting once. All of them threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
The Panthers added Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round of the draft. It isn't often that a third-rounder becomes the Day 1 starter, but Corral is entering an uncertain situation.
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called Darnold the starter before telling the media he shouldn't have, per David Newton of ESPN.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are still considered a contender to trade for Baker Mayfield. Albert Breer of MMQB speculated that the quarterback "could be moved" to the Panthers if Cleveland is willing to take on the majority of Mayfield's $18.9 million salary in 2022.
The battle between Darnold and Corral is important because if either stands out as a starter for 2022, they could avoid having to trade for Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Line
The Chicago Bears offensive line has too many unknowns to narrow down the most important position battle. Protecting Justin Fields should be priority No. 1 for the franchise, so each position is critical, and the unit doesn't have a lot of concrete answers.
Last season, the Bears ranked 22nd in PFF's final offensive line rankings. Their two highest-graded linemen, Jason Peters and James Daniels, are no longer on the roster.
The left guard and center spots are the closest to being solidified. The team brought in Lucas Patrick this offseason, and the veteran will likely start at center. Cody Whitehair played well enough to return at left guard.
New head coach Matt Eberflus has shown he's not afraid to move guys around up front. At the team's voluntary minicamp, Teven Jenkins moved to right tackle from left, while Larry Borom was taking snaps on the left side.
The Bears brought in veterans Julie'n Davenport and Dakota Dozier, but neither is a guaranteed starter. Right guard could be the most interesting competition. Sam Mustipher could move there from center. Dozier is a possibility as well as rookies Zachary Thomas and Ja'Tyre Carter.
Cincinnati Bengals: Left Guard
After watching Joe Burrow absorb 51 sacks one year after suffering a torn ACL, the Bengals did a lot to fix their offensive line.
From center to right tackle, they should have a new starting trio in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La'el Collins.
They should be all right at the left tackle spot. Jonah Williams ranked 32nd among 83 tackles at PFF last season and still has room to go in his third season. The biggest question mark is at left guard.
The most likely candidate to play there is Jackson Carman. He saw offensive snaps in 12 regular-season games as a rookie and played in 51 percent of the snaps in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. Filling in at right guard for Hakeem Adeniji, he conceded the most pressures in that game with six, per PFF.
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has been impressed with Carman's offseason, though.
"He's been doing the right things. He's been taking care of himself the way he's supposed to. I'm hoping for a really nice jump from his first year into his second year," Callahan said, per ESPN's Ben Baby.
Carman will have to show that improvement and added maturity to stave off fourth-round pick Cordell Volson, who was a team captain at North Dakota State and made 15 starts at right tackle, per Brandon Thorn of Bleacher Report.
Cleveland Browns: Defensive Tackle
The Cleveland Browns defense has exciting options at nearly every position.
From Myles Garrett on the edge to the cornerback tandem of Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at linebacker, elite or potentially elite players are everywhere.
Except for the interior of the defensive line.
If one area could lower the ceiling of the Browns defense, it's defensive tackle. The Browns have an interesting mix of talents but few well-rounded players.
Jordan Elliott ranked 102nd of 109 defensive tackles at PFF last season. He's the returning tackle with the most experience. Cleveland signed 2018 first-round pick Taven Bryan, but he has never lived up to the hype, tying his career high of two sacks last season.
Fourth-round pick Perrion Winfrey could break into the starting lineup. The Senior Bowl MVP flashed pass-rush production in college, but he may not hold up defending the run.
Derrik Klassen of Bleacher Report noted of Winfrey: "Anchor in the run game is not there. Does not settle and play with a wide base when needed."
Sheldon Day and Tommy Togiai could be in the mix as well. The Browns need to find a three- to four-man rotation that won't be a liability in the middle.
Dallas Cowboys: No. 3 Receiver
The battle to take over as the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver is important because whoever wins that distinction is likely to be the No. 2 receiver for a while.
With the Cowboys' moves this offseason, CeeDee Lamb is the unquestioned WR1, and Michael Gallup is safely the WR2. But the ACL injury Gallup suffered in January could cause him to miss the beginning of the season.
Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reported Gallup likely won't be ready for the start of the season even if playing in Week 1 remains a goal for the receiver.
That means either free-agent signing James Washington or third-round pick Jalen Tolbert will be the second wide receiver opposite Lamb.
Jim Nagy, director of the Senior Bowl, has spoken highly of Tolbert's work ethic and willingness to prepare.
"The last year and a half, he's really prepared like a pro," Nagy said, per Todd Archer of ESPN. "I think that's what made him different in this receiver class. I can attest to it. I can feel really good about saying that Jalen is really going to be able to hit the ground running."
Both Washington and Tolbert will play important roles in the Cowboys' new-look receiving corps.
Denver Broncos: Right Tackle
The Denver Broncos went all-in to attain Russell Wilson this offseason. Protecting their new quarterback will be a vital objective.
Wilson has historically been a hard quarterback to keep upright. He has absorbed more than 40 sacks in every season but 2012 and 2021. Some of that is on him and his desire to extend the play.
Having an offensive line that can give him time is essential.
The Broncos weren't able to find a surefire starter for the tackle spot across from Garett Bolles, but they believe they have a good three-man competition with Billy Turner, Tom Compton and Calvin Anderson.
"I think it's a very competitive position. It's a veteran position," offensive coordinator Justin Outten told reporters. There are three guys with Billy, Tom and Calvin. Those guys can battle it out, and I'm really excited about that position just to see how it plays out."
According to PFF, Turner saw the most action last season with 810 snaps for the Green Bay Packers, giving up three sacks. Compton graded out the highest with an 86.4 grade and four sacks allowed on 573 snaps with the Niners. Anderson is the young option, playing just 172 snaps last season but surrendering no sacks in the small sample.
Figuring out the best option will be key to getting the most out of the Wilson trade.
Detroit Lions: Cornerback
The Lions are set to have several training camp battles as they continue their rebuild, but few positions are more important than cornerback. One of the most important aspects of pass defense comes with a lot of questions for the Lions.
Amani Oruwariye probably locked up a starting spot with his performance last season. He had six interceptions and 11 passes defended in his third season, breaking out as a legitimate starter.
Who will start across from him is where things get interesting. Jeff Okudah will have the advantage of being a premium draft pick. However, the 2020 No. 3 overall pick still has a lot to prove.
Injuries have derailed his career. He's only played 10 games in two years and didn't necessarily look like a game-changer in that limited action. He has one interception and three passes defended, allowing a completion percentage of 77.2 percent on 57 targets.
The Lions have other options if Okudah doesn't bounce back from the torn Achilles that cost him most of 2021. Jerry Jacobs made nine starts as a rookie last season and allowed a completion percentage of just 59.0. The Lions drafted Ifeatu Melifonwu in the third round last year as a developmental prospect, and he could be interesting after starting four games.
Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver
Aaron Rodgers has made some average receiving corps look good in his career. But 2022 might be his greatest challenge yet.
The Packers shipped off Davante Adams to Las Vegas, netting first-round and second-round picks in return. They used the second-rounder to trade up and draft Christian Watson out of North Dakota State, but that doesn't solve the problems that losing Adams presents.
The Packers have a lot of receiving options, but it would be tricky to declare the hierarchy.
The veterans in the room are Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard. Cobb and Lazard have established rapport with Rodgers, but Lazard's career high is 513 yards, and Cobb hasn't hit that mark since 2019.
Amari Rodgers, Watson and fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs are the young options. Rodgers had four catches as a rookie last season, and the Packers liked Watson and Doubs well enough to draft them, so they should factor in.
The Packers are a Super Bowl contender, but their ceiling might depend on making this group of receivers work. Finding their roles early is a priority in camp.
Houston Texans: Edge
Among the litany of issues for the Houston Texans was that their pass-rush was among the tamest in the league.
Getting pressure on the quarterback is crucial to good defense, and the Texans did not strike concern in the hearts of opposing passers, let alone fear.
With Lovie Smith as the defensive coordinator, they blitzed just 19.5 percent of the time (30th) and had a pressure percentage of 20.7 percent (28th). Smith relied on his edge-rushers to create their own pressure, and they didn't come through.
The Texans recognized this as a need and addressed it with four free agents. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are vets coming from the Buffalo Bills, while Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Rasheem Green arrive from the Rams and Seahawks, respectively.
The quartet combined for 17.5 sacks and 83 pressures last season. The Texans did a great job of adding talent to the position. They also have Jonathan Greenard, who has the second-most sacks of any player from the 2020 draft class.
Figuring out how to best utilize everyone will be important as OTAs get underway.
Indianapolis Colts: Left Tackle
Left tackle remains one of the most important positions on offense. That's especially true when you're planning on trotting out a 37-year-old who isn't known for his mobility as the starting quarterback.
The Colts rely heavily on a good offensive line. They had one of the best rushing attacks in the league last year and figure to be up there again with Jonathan Taylor coming off 1,811 yards in 2021.
Who starts at left tackle could dictate how well the line performs next season. Matt Pryor returns as the favorite. He was good in a small sample size last season; he didn't allow a sack and graded out at 76.5 by PFF on 438 snaps.
He could see a challenge from Bernhard Raimann, though. The Central Michigan tackle was the No. 28 overall player on the Bleacher Report big board but dropped to the third round. His age (25) could have been a factor, though it might also mean the Colts will look to get immediate contributions from him.
While Pryor and Raimann are promising prospects, Dennis Kelly could be a factor if neither seizes the job.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Right Tackle
Money talks, and the Jacksonville Jaguars' money said Cam Robinson will be the team's left tackle for at least the next two seasons. Robinson signed a three-year, $54 million extension last month.
It was a surprising move considering the Jaguars' options. They could have spent the top pick on a tackle, pursued one in free agency or even promoted Walker Little.
With Robinson locked into the spot, a switch to the right side is an option for Little. The former 5-star prospect was a second-round pick in 2021. He looked promising in a brief stint at left tackle, posting a PFF grade of 68.6 across 225 snaps.
It's not a lot to go on, but he could be an upgrade over Jawaan Taylor. Taylor is the incumbent at the other tackle spot but graded out at 60.4 while giving up six sacks.
Who starts there will be important as Trevor Lawrence tries to get back on track under a new coaching regime. Little has more upside, but Taylor is the more experienced option.
Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback
The Kansas City Chiefs' receiving unit underwent a massive change this offseason with the departure of Tyreek Hill. However, they brought in enough talent that Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid should be able to figure it out.
The secondary looms as the bigger concern for the Chiefs.
The safety room is different. Tyrann Matthieu is gone, but Justin Reid and Juan Thornhill will allow second-round pick Bryan Cook to come along at his own pace.
The Chiefs don't appear to have the same luxury with first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie following the departure of Charvarius Ward. L'Jarius Sneed looks like a guaranteed starter, but the Chiefs figure to rely on McDuffie heavily. Rashad Fenton and Deandre Baker could factor in as well.
Sneed and McDuffie both have the ability to play in the slot, too, which adds another element of intrigue.
With Russell Wilson joining the Broncos, Davante Adams heading to the Raiders and the Chargers offense flying with Justin Herbert, the Chiefs need a functional secondary. McDuffie and others will get thrown into the fire early on.
Las Vegas Raiders: Right Guard and Tackle
The right side of the Las Vegas Raiders' offensive line combined to allow 124 pressures last season, which was 16 more than any other right side leaguewide, according to PFF. An offensive line is only as good as its weakest link, and the Raiders have two clear spots that they need to address.
The options are a mix of returning prospects and free-agent signings. Kolton Miller and Andre James seem like safe bets to start at left tackle and center, respectively, but even left guard is open.
That leaves three total spots for a group of candidates that includes Denzelle Good, John Simpson, Jermaine Eluemunor, Alex Leatherwood, Brandon Parker and rookie Dylan Parham.
Ideally, Leatherwood will make a leap in Year 2 under a new coaching staff. The 2021 No. 17 overall pick gave up eight sacks and earned a 45.0 grade from PFF while playing both at right tackle and guard last season, but he has a chance to start over with Josh McDaniels' staff.
The New England Patriots typically have been able to field good offensive lines even without spending premium draft capital. The Raiders have to hope they can work similar magic.
Los Angeles Chargers: Right Tackle
The Los Angeles Chargers have made plenty of moves to shore up their offensive line over the last two years. They've done a good job of protecting quarterback Justin Herbert, who is their most important asset.
After spending the No. 17 overall pick on Zion Johnson, the Chargers have clear answers at four of the five offensive line spots. Rashawn Slater is an elite left tackle, while Matt Feiler and Corey Linsley worked out as free-agent additions last season at left guard and center, respectively.
However, Storm Norton was a problem last season. The right tackle gave up nine sacks (tied for the second-most leaguewide, per PFF) and had a middling 60.2 grade in 1,078 snaps.
Trey Pipkins should challenge for Norton's spot throughout the summer. The 2019 third-round selection played only 173 snaps last season, but he earned a 68.5 grade from PFF. That's a marked improvement from 2020, when he gave up five sacks and had a 54.8 grade.
If neither Norton nor Pipkins develop into a legitimate starting option before the season, the Chargers might need to go the veteran free-agent route to fill that spot.
Los Angeles Rams: Edge
The Los Angeles Rams figure to have one of the NFL's best defenses, but they have a fair bit of production to replace in 2022.
The departure of Von Miller leaves a significant hole across from Leonard Floyd. Losing linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to the Houston Texans in free agency will make replacing Miller even more difficult.
Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis figure to compete for the open edge-rushing role. Lewis played 31.6 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps last season, while Hollins was on the field for 19.2. Lewis racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss, while Hollins had two sacks and only one tackle for loss.
There are still pass-rushing options on the free-agent market, including Trey Flowers and Justin Houston. But the Rams' limited cap space may force them to lean on Hollins and/or Lewis.
Playing in a front seven that includes Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner should help whoever wins the starting job.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive Line (Except Left Tackle)
Tua Tagovailoa will be the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback. Mike Gesicki will be the starting tight end. Beyond that, the team could feature a new starter at every other position.
The Dolphins have an obvious starter at most skill positions, but the only certainty on the offensive line is that free-agent addition Terron Armstead will play left tackle. Fellow free-agent signing Connor Williams figures to pencil in at left guard, but he took reps at center at the team's recent minicamp, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
Last year, Miami's offensive finished last in PFF's final rankings. Even with the additions of Armstead and Williams, the Dolphins will have to find three other starters among their returning talent.
Robert Hunt carried the best PFF grade of the group at 67.4 last season. He could play either guard or tackle. Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, Michael Deiter, Solomon Kindley and Adam Pankey should all have a shot to win a starting job, too.
It will be critical for the Dolphins to find the best grouping ahead of a possible make-or-break season for Tagovailoa.
Minnesota Vikings: Cornerback
The Minnesota Vikings have plenty of new faces on defense, but their cornerbacks are the biggest question mark.
Patrick Peterson played the most snaps of the group last season, but he can't be penciled in as the No. 1 corner this season. The 32-year-old had only one interception and five passes defended in 13 starts, both of which were tied for career lows.
Cameron Dantzler is the safest bet to start. He played 56.8 percent of the Vikings' defense snaps last season and was efficient when on the field. He allowed only 4.7 yards per target and a passer rating of 74.7.
Second-round rookie Andrew Booth Jr. could challenge Peterson for his spot. B/R NFL Scout Cory Giddings gave him a grade of 8.1, which equates to a Year 1 starter. Booth has the length that defensive coordinator Ed Donatell tends to like in his corners.
The slot also will be a crucial role to figure out, as Mackensie Alexander was PFF's lowest-rated slot defender last season. The Vikings signed former Packers slot corner Chandon Sullivan to compete with Alexander, but he gave up four touchdowns and 8.4 yards per target in Green Bay last year.
New England Patriots: Linebacker
The New England Patriots were in their base defense only 12 percent of the time last season, according to Sports Info Solutions. Only two teams were in their base package less often.
The lack of athleticism they had at linebacker might have been a contributing factor. Dont'a Hightower played 58.8 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps, while Jamie Collins still had a role at 18.5 percent.
Rather than address that position in the draft, the Patriots instead traded edge-rusher Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns for Mack Wilson. They also re-signed Ja'Whaun Bentley, who played more snaps than any other returning Patriots off-ball linebacker in 2021 and should return to a similar role.
The rest of the linebacker roles figure to be up for grabs in camp.
Raekwon McMillan will return from the ACL tear that cost him the entire 2021 campaign to compete with Wilson. Cameron McGrone didn't see the field as a rookie, but the 2021 fifth-rounder could fight for a role this season as well.
Although the Patriots have remodeled their linebacker corps, they still lack proven options outside of Bentley. They'll need someone to emerge as a consistent contributor to allow them to play their base defense more often this year.
New Orleans Saints: Left Tackle
The New Orleans Saints have a clear-cut starter at most positions, but that isn't the case at left tackle following the free-agent departure of Terron Armstead.
After Armstead left, the Saints used the No. 19 overall pick on Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning. It's unclear whether he'll be able to start right away, though.
"He can become an impact starter if he can learn to play with more discipline, consistent leverage and hand placement," B/R NFL scout Brandon Thorn noted in Penning's scouting report.
Discipline, consistent leverage and hand placement are the kind of things Penning will need to work on in camp, along with learning all the terminology and assignments that come in a pro system.
If Penning isn't ready to start by Week 1, the Saints have a decent backup plan in James Hurst. He played 941 snaps last season while giving up only three sacks and committing four penalties, per PFF.
New York Giants: Cornerback
The New York Giants' decision to release cornerback James Bradberry made sense financially, but it did not from an on-field perspective. Their secondary got worse when they parted ways with the 28-year-old.
Competition at cornerback throughout the summer will now be critical as Brian Daboll tries to get his Giants coaching tenure off on the right foot. However, the in-house options are light on experience.
Aaron Robinson played primarily in the slot last year. The 2021 third-round pick played in nine games with two starts and gave up 19 completions on 30 targets. Jarren Williams saw only 21 targets, but he allowed just eight completions for 53 yards.
Cor'Dale Flott could be a name to watch here as well. He primarily played in the slot at LSU, but the Giants drafted him in the third round.
Someone has to replace Bradberry in new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's aggressive system.
New York Jets: Free Safety
The New York Jets have an abundance of talent up front, which should lead to some interesting position battles. That's a good problem to have, though.
Finding the safety who will start alongside free-agent addition Jordan Whitehead will be more difficult.
Lamarcus Joyner should be considered the favorite. He has proved capable when healthy, but he suffered a season-ending triceps tear in the first game of the 2021 season.
Joyner is now entering his age-32 season, so his health may be a concern moving forward. The Jets could go with a younger option, such as 2020 third-round pick Ashtyn Davis, although he gave up a passer rating of 123.1 on 33 targets last season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Strong Safety
On paper, the Philadelphia Eagles have a chance to be much better on defense in 2022. They've added key players such as edge-rusher Haason Reddick and cornerback James Bradberry who should help them make a jump.
But a secondary can be undone with one weak link, so the battle at safety opposite Anthony Harris is worth keeping an eye on.
The Eagles were connected to Tyrann Mathieu before he signed with the Saints, so they could still seek outside help. But for now, the battle appears to be between Marcus Epps and K'Von Wallace.
Epps got more playing time last year (44.9 percent of defensive snaps), but he wasn't great in coverage, allowing a passer rating of 117.3. Wallace made three starts but didn't see enough targets to draw a definitive conclusion either way, although the small sample size wasn't good. He gave up six completions on eight targets, including one for a touchdown.
If Epps or Wallace don't prove worthy of a starting role, the Eagles will have to look to the free-agent market for veteran help. Otherwise, offenses are going to target whomever they start at strong safety.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback
The spotlight is always on first-round quarterbacks. That spotlight shines even brighter when you were the only quarterback taken in the first round.
The Steelers didn't look far to find their potential Ben Roethlisberger successor in Pitt product Kenny Pickett. They'll soon get to see whether he's the quarterback of right now.
Mitch Trubisky could be the Steelers' starting quarterback in the meantime. He spent last season sitting behind Josh Allen in Buffalo, but he was 29-21 over four years as a starter for the Chicago Bears. He threw a respectable 16 touchdowns to eight interceptions in 10 games with the Bears in 2020.
Trubisky would give the Steelers a relatively safe floor, but Pickett has far more long-term upside. General manager Kevin Colbert has been impressed with the rookie's maturity in the early going.
"It just reaffirmed for me the maturity and just the really good feeling you have about having Kenny Pickett be your quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers," Colbert said about Pickett's introductory press conference, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. "Sometimes you take that for granted until you get the young men in the rooms, but it was great to see him and have him around."
How the battle shakes out will provide insight into just how NFL-ready Pickett is coming out of college.
San Francisco 49ers: Edge-Rusher
If the San Francisco 49ers don't trade Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback will be their most important position battle. However, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported the Niners and Garoppolo are both "willing to be flexible to find the best situation" for him.
Outside of quarterback, their biggest question is who will be the primary pass-rusher across from Nick Bosa. With Bosa on one end of the D-line, another pass-rushing threat should have an opportunity to break out.
Drake Jackson could eventually be that guy. The USC product was the Niners' first pick this year at the back end of Round 2.
Jackson figures to push Samson Ebukam, who put up modest numbers last year in his first season with the team. He had 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits for the Niners after spending the first four years of his career with the Rams.
One of the two will need to take on a larger role in the absence of Arden Key, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after a 6.5-sack campaign in San Francisco last year.
Seattle Seahawks: Quarterback
Whenever a team has a battle at quarterback, it's the most important one because of the value of the position. But in the Seattle Seahawks' case, there might not be a right answer.
Neither Drew Lock nor Geno Smith looks like the quarterback of the future for Seattle. Whether it's through a trade (Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo?) or next year's draft, the Seahawks' 2023 quarterback likely isn't on the roster at the moment.
Still, the training camp battle between Smith and Lock is important even if the winner winds up being a stopgap.
Smith has the familiarity advantage with head coach Peter Carroll. He started three games this past season in place of the injured Russell Wilson and threw five touchdowns to only one interception.
However, Lock is the more intriguing option. He went 0-3 in three starts with the Broncos last season, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he's entering only his fourth NFL season and may benefit from getting a fresh start.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Strong Safety
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have enjoyed plenty of continuity in the Tom Brady era. They returned all 11 defensive starters last season and nearly duplicated that feat in 2022.
Although edge-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul remains a free agent, the Buccaneers have a clear-cut replacement for him in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. The same cannot be said at strong safety, where they lost Jordan Whitehead to the New York Jets in free agency.
Head coach Todd Bowles now has an important role to fill in an otherwise strong secondary. Whitehead was rock-solid in coverage last season, allowing only 5.4 yards per target and a passer rating of 62.6.
After losing Whitehead, the Bucs signed Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal in free agency, both of whom bring a degree of versatility. Ryan has lined up as a corner and safety, while Neal experimented with playing linebacker for the Cowboys last season.
Mike Edwards, who has been with Tampa Bay for the past three seasons, could also wind up beating out both new additions.
Tennessee Titans: Right Tackle
The Tennessee Titans' offensive game plan revolves around the run. They have been in the top three of rushing play percentage in each of the last four seasons, and they'll likely make it five in a row this year.
Derrick Henry's punishing running style deserves much of the credit for that, but Tennessee also has the run-blocking offensive line for it.
The Titans had the second-worst pass-blocking efficiency last season, per PFF, yet their offensive line still ranked 16th overall. However, they lost their highest-rated lineman, David Quessenberry, to the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
The Titans now need to find a quality starter at right tackle across from Taylor Lewan. Although 2021 second-round pick Dillon Radunz could be the answer, general manager Jon Robinson has been noncommittal about where he will play.
"Dillon has shown he can play tackle, and he has worked at guard and has played guard," Robinson said, per Jim Wyatt of the team's website. "I think there's some versatility with him as a football player. But at the end of the day with the offensive line, it's trying to get the right five guys up there that can block their guy on a consistent basis."
Jamarco Jones, who played both guard and tackle in Seattle, is another option.
Washington Commanders: Wide Receiver
Carson Wentz might be a polarizing figure, but he's an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. However, the Washington Commanders have serious questions at wide receiver.
Terry McLaurin is the only standout they have at the position right now, but his future in Washington isn't certain, either. Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post reported the Commanders and McLaurin "remain far apart" in negotiations on a contract extension.
If things end up going south between the two, the receiver position will get ugly for Washington quickly.
Even if the Commanders come to terms with McLaurin, they need to figure out the roles of Curtis Samuel and first-round pick Jahan Dotson. Both are good candidates to play in the slot, but they could be used on the outside, too.
The lack of proven depth behind them is concerning. Cam Sims is the most experienced option. He's had 49 receptions for 715 yards and three touchdowns over the last three seasons. Dyami Brown had only 12 receptions as a rookie in 2021, while 2020 fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden has been a non-factor.
Training camp should go a long way toward settling which receivers will emerge as Wentz's preferred targets this year.
Advanced stats via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.