Predicting The Winners Of The Biggest Training Camp Battles In The NFL
NFL Training Camp Position Battles: Predicting The Winners
NFL training camp season is under way and we are starting to see which position battles need to be followed. Every year, there are players battling for starting positions in training camp. We will start to see a clearer picture of who is ahead in these battles when the preseason games start, but you can still get some information from the practices going on right now.
Many positions are already filled by talented veteran players. That being said, there are positions to be had on every team coming into training camp. Coaches love to have competition during camp to get the best out of their players, as competition usually brings out the best in everyone.
Most of these position battles come down to some sort of a rookie versus veteran race. The rookie usually has more upside, while you pretty much know what you are going to get out of the veteran. For the most part, I would say that teams would like to have their young players win their position battles but when it comes down to it, the best player will play whether he is a rookie or veteran. NFL head coaches are constantly fighting for their jobs, so winning is always the most important thing.
The 2013 draft class is considered to be fairly weak. In 2012, there were many hot-shot rookies that took over starting positions for NFL teams from day one. I do not see that happening as much this season. There is not a Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck in the 2013 rookie pool, so these guys must impress in camp and in the preseason to earn a job. There certainly will be rookies starting for NFL teams this season, but they simply must impress to earn their job.
Here are my predictions for the winners of the biggest position battles during training camp.
Denver Broncos' Running Back
The Candidates: Monte Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno.
When the Denver Broncos drafted Ball in the second round of the draft back in April, many assumed that he would take over the starting running back position for the team. Early in Training Camp, this does not appear to be the case. Hillman has been the one getting the majority of the reps with the first team and do not forget about Moreno, who was fantastic down the stretch filling in for an injured Willis McGahee.
Prediction: I think that Hillman will begin the season as the starter but will be on a fairly short leash. The Broncos have options and they will use that to their advantage. I think Ball will get some goal-line work and still be fairly involved in the offense. Moreno will be there as a nice back-up plan if these young guys do not work out.
St. Louis Rams' Running Back
The Candidates: Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Zac Stacy.
This is one position battle that I am very interested in. With the departure of Steven Jackson, I think that the St. Louis Rams are going to speed up and spread out the offense to help make quarterback Sam Bradford more comfortable. I think this team will be throwing the ball a ton and that may leave little opportunity for the running back position. This battle appears to be wide open at the moment, with Richardson being the one getting most of the reps with the first team.
Prediction: I think that Pead fits what the Rams are trying to do very well. He has great speed coupled with elite receiving skills for a running back. However, Pead is suspended for the first week of the regular season due to him violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. This may open the door for either Richardson or Stacy to take the job. Out of those two, I like Stacy's potential better and could see him running away with the job after a great Week 1 performance. In the end, I think that Pead's skill set fits this offense too well for him not to be involved and I think he ends up with the most playing time at the position for the Rams this season. That said, I am sure there will be some sort of a time share. Richardson seems like the guy that will be left out to me.
San Francisco 49ers' no. 2 Wide Receiver
The Candidates: A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton.
With Michael Crabtree being on the shelf for at least a good portion of the season due to a torn Achilles, there is a big opportunity for a wide receiver to step up for the San Francisco 49ers. Anquan Boldin will surely be involved in the offense but there will have to be somebody starting opposite of him. Guys like Kassim Osgood, Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore may see the field but I think this battle comes down to Jenkins and Patton. Both players are currently battling minor injuries, so it is hard to know where this position battle is currently sitting.
Prediction: I think that both players will get a ton of opportunity to prove themselves during the season. In the end, I think that Jenkins will be the guy to start opposite of Boldin. He just profiles better as an outside receiver. Both players have great talent and I would not be surprised to see both contribute this season, but Patton projects as more of a slot receiver so I think he will be more involved in 3-wide receiver sets.
Pittsburgh Steelers' Running Back
The Candidates: Le'Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
The Pittsburgh Steelers struggled to run the ball last season. The trio of Dwyer, Redman and Rashard Mendenhall simply did not get the job done. Mendenhall left via free agency and the Steelers added Bell in the second round of the draft. I have never been a huge fan of Bell but he is a physical runner that should fit in nicely with what the Steelers do.
Prediction: Bell will get every opportunity to win this job and I think that he will be the starting running back when the season starts. Redman disappointed last season when he got his opportunity, so I doubt that he is given much of a chance. Dwyer was solid at times last year so if Bell does falter, he would probably be the first guy to step in.
Baltimore Ravens' Linebackers
The Candidates: Arthur Brown, Jameel McClain and Daryl Smith.
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens have undergone a bit of a defensive overhaul this off-season. Gone are former defensive leaders like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Paul Kroger. The Ravens are now counting on younger players to step up and fill the voids left by these Ravens greats. With the retirement of Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe leaving via free agency, the Ravens seem to have a hole at their inside linebacker positions. Obviously, you cannot replace a legend like Lewis, but these guys will do the best that they can.
Prediction: In the base 3-4 defense for the Ravens, there are two inside linebacker positions, and it seems that there are three viable candidates for those spots. McClain was very solid for the Ravens last season before he went down with a spinal cord injury. As long as he comes back healthy, I think that he will win one of these jobs. So the real battle comes down to Brown versus Smith. Brown is a talented rookie and Smith is a wily nine-year veteran. Both players are capable of holding down the position, but I think that the Ravens are looking to go young and that's why Brown will win the spot to start the season. Even with the losses that the Ravens have had on defense this offseason, I think they will still be a very solid unit.
Green Bay Packers' Running Back
The Candidates: Jonathan Franklin, Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Eddie Lacy.
Because they have such an elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers have gotten away with not having much of a running game in the past few seasons. In the 2013 draft, the Packers targeted the position and came away with Lacy in the second round and Franklin in the fourth. This makes me wonder whether the Packers plan on putting more of an emphasis on the running game to take some pressure off Rodgers.
Prediction: Green and Harris are decent running backs, but there is no doubt that the Packers will want to get the rookies involved. Lacy is a classic power back that has some deceptive speed, but he has showed up overweight to training camp and that has many questioning his commitment. Franklin is more of a speed back and he is also a very good receiver out of the backfield. I think that Franklin will see the most playing time of all of the Packers' backs. He just fits the offense perfectly. The others, especially Lacy, will get some time as well, but I really like what I see with Franklin.
New England Patriots' no. 2 Wide Receiver
The Candidates: Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins and Kembrell Thompkins.
This is going to be one of my favorite position battles to follow. As we all know, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have lost some serious pass catching talent this offseason. New England is looking at a ton of options to try and figure out who will be catching passes from Brady. If he can stay healthy, Danny Amendola will certainly be on the field for the Patriots. After that, it is really hard to say. Dobson and Boyce were drafted by the Patriots in the second and fourth rounds respectively back in April. Both guys are good talents with high upside. Thompkins was brought in as an undrafted free-agent and has impressed in camp so far. Jenkins is a nice veteran piece, and Edelman is a guy that has performed well in New England before.
Prediction: This one is tough to predict. I think all of these guys will see some playing time with the Patriots this season. If he can stay healthy, I think Edelman takes a big role in the New England offense as a slot receiver. Boyce is probably better suited for the slot as well, but I am not sure he will be ready to take a big role this season. Thompkins is a guy that really interests me and I am excited to see what he does, but I think the no. 2 wide receiver going into the season will be Dobson. The Patriots drafted him early and would like to see him run away with the job. Jenkins is a safe veteran backup plan.
Buffalo Bills' Quarterback
The Candidates: Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel.
The Buffalo Bills decided to move on from the Ryan Fitzpatrick era this offseason. With a new head coach in Doug Marrone, the Bills are obviously ready to head in another direction. This team has some nice young offensive talent and could surprise a few teams if they can get production out of the quarterback position.
Prediction: The only question in this position battle is whether Manuel is ready to go. If he is, the job is his. If not, Kolb will step in until he is ready. Selecting him with the 16th overall pick, it is obvious that the Bills like the skill set that Manuel has to offer. Early camp reports on Manuel are positive and it is starting to look like he may be ready for the NFL game. I think that Manuel will start for the Bills in Week 1 as they look to build continuity on this young team.
New York Jets' Quarterback
The Candidates: Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.
The offense for the New York Jets was awful last season. While he certainly did not help matters, it was not all Sanchez's fault. Yes, he was terrible, but the Jets had zero weapons to work with. This team needs some serious help offensively. The Jets drafted Smith after he fell to the second round. He had a great college career and he has the tools to succeed at the next level. Smith does struggle with accuracy and he must improve that in the NFL.
Prediction: I am not sure that it will help anything, but I think the Jets are going to start the season with Smith as their quarterback. With their lack of playmakers, the Jets need a quarterback who can make plays on his own. Smith would be much better than Sanchez in this department, and could also give the offense a little excitement that they desperately need.
Philadelphia Eagles' Quarterback
The Candidates: Matt Barkley, Nick Foles and Michael Vick.
The Philadelphia Eagles are probably the most interesting team to follow through training camp. Everybody is excited to see what new head coach Chip Kelly comes up with at the next level. Kelly always had a mobile quarterback at Oregon, but he has said that he does not necessarily need one. Vick would be the obvious fit for Kelly's Oregon offense, but I highly doubt that he will run the exact same offense in the NFL. Barkley and Foles are certainly viable options for the Eagles this season.
Prediction: I think that Kelly will be looking to find out if his quarterback of the future is on his roster. Simply put, Vick is not that guy. He has had a nice career, but his better days are far behind him. I think that we will see Foles to start the season and if Kelly does not like what he sees, he will give the rookie Barkley a shot to prove himself.
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