As NFL teams prepare themselves to make the jump from training camp to preseason, some rosters still have big question marks.
Whether it’s not enough talent at a certain position or too much talent at a position with no definite starter, teams across the league still have questions that have been yet to be answered.
As you tune in to the preseason games over the next few weeks of August, here are some important position battles on each team to look out for.
Dallas Cowboys: Defensive End
Ever since the Cowboys cut Demarcus Ware in 2013, they have played musical chairs in trying to find a replacement defender that can get after the quarterback consistently. The Cowboys sack leader last year was defensive end Benson Mayowa with 6 total. Dallas used a first round draft pick on former Michigan pass rusher Taco Charlton this offseason in hopes that he and a combo of Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford or Mayowa could bring a consistent pass rush. ‘Defense wins championships’ is how the saying goes and as good as the Cowboys offense was last year, they will fall short of the Super Bowl again if they cannot create a consistent pass rush this season.
New York Giants: Running Back
The Giants were a very dangerous team last year and seemed to have all the pieces to make a deep postseason run. Their one flaw, the run game. As good as their wide reciever core is, the Giants are going to need to run the ball every so often to keep defense honest. Last years leading rusher was Rashad Jennings who finished with 593 rush yards in 13 games but he is no longer with the team. As a team, the Giants only put up 1, 412 rush yards during the 2016 season. Their run game has to improve if they hope to advance in the playoffs. Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa are their current running backs and the three combined for three TDs and 725 rush yards on 178 attempts last season. One of those three is going to have to emerge as the premier back and boost the Giants run game.
Washington Redskins: Nose Tackle
Anyone that knows defensive schemes will tell you, to run a 3-4 defense you need very good lineman especially at nose tackle. Right now the Redskins do not have that big guy in the middle that can control both A gaps which could make life hell for the middle linebackers. Stacy McGee, Phil Taylor Sr, Joey Mbu and A.J. Francis are the nose tackles currently on the roster and neither one has emerged as a starter during training camp. The Washington coaching staff will be watching their nose tackles during preseason very closely as they look to tighten up a run defense that allowed opponenets to rush for 120 yards per game last season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Running Back
This is a case of too much talent and not enough snaps to go around. The Philadelphia Eagles currently have four running backs that all have starter potential. LeGarrette Blount, the power running back coming off a super bowl run with the Patriots, Ryan Matthews, last years primary back who is a handful to slow down when healthy, Darren Sproles, primarily used as a scat back for screens and short pass routes and Donnel Pumphrey, who rushed for 2,133 yards at San Diego State last year. My guess is that one of the four will have to get traded or cut and because Pumphrey is the new kid on the block, he might have to work the hardest just to make a roster spot.
Chicago Bears: Quarterback
The Bears have a lot of holes on their roster, but their biggest question mark comes at the quarterback position. Before the draft, they signed free agent Mike Glennon who looked to be the Bears next franchise quarterback. Come draft night however, the Bears front office thought it would be a good idea to trade up to the No. 2 overall pick and take Mitchell Trubisky out of North Carolina, causing all sorts of confusion around the league. It is rumored that Glennon will open the season as the starter but anytime you draft a quarterback in the first round, their is the expectation that he should start year one if their on a bad team. Glennon needs to put a far enough gap between himself and Trubisky or he might become the latest victim like Case Keenum was to Jared Goff last year.
Detroit Lions: Running Back
This was another team with little to no running game last year. Ameer Abdullah opened the year as the starter but never lived up to his potential due to injuries. This allowed for Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner to step up to the plate and make some noise but neither of them rushed for more than 400 yards last season. All three of them return to the Lions this season and all three play a crucial part in determining how far this Lions team will go. Just like the New York Giants, the Lions passing game was great last year but they could not run the ball when they needed to which is why they got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers: Cornerback
After losing Sam Shields to injury last season, the Packers had trouble covering any opposing wide receivers. Entering the 2017 season, the Packers are again without Shields after releasing him in the offseason due to injury. Currently they have Davon House, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Ladarius Gunter and first round pick Kevin King on the roster all fighting for starting spots. King looks to be promising but he is only a rookie. House might claim one of the starting spots but the other boundary corner and nickel corner position are still up for grabs. For a pass defense that allowed far too many big plays down the field last year, the corner position is going to be looked at closely during preseason.
Minnesota Vikings: Running Back
The Adrian Peterson era has finally come to and end in Minnesota and their could not be a bigger void to fill across the league. Who are the candidates to replace him? Latavious Murray, formerly with the Raiders who has shown a great combo of power and speed but struggles to stay healthy, Dalvin Cook, the rookie second rounder that did it all at Florida State, Jerick McKinnon, who knows the Vikings system and has stepped up when Peterson was injured and Bishop Sankey, once a highly thought of running back but never lived up to his potential in Tennessee. Murray and Cook look to be the front runners right now but do not count out McKinnon and Sankey just yet, especially with Murray’s injury history.
Atlanta Falcons: Defensive End
The Falcons don’t have any glaring holes to talk about but they do have a plethora of defensive ends fighting for playing time. Coming off their Super Bowl loss, the Falcons used their first round pick to select UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley. McKinley will have to battle it out with Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn and Courtney Upshaw if he expects to see a lot of playing time at either end position.
Carolina Panthers: Right Tackle
After Michael Oher was released due to a failed physical, the Panthers now have a big hole to fill on their roster last minute. Entering training camp, the Panthers looked to be set with Matt Kalil and Oher as their two tackles protecting Cam Newton but now it will be up to Daryl Williams or rookie Taylor Morton to step up to the plate. The Panthers offensive line was banged up last season and struggled to protect Newton which led to the quarterback’s struggles. When Newton is protected well and has time, we have seen him work wonders with the Panthers including a trip to the Super Bowl during the 2015-16 season. When he is constantly facing pressure and taking a lot of hits, he struggles to lead the Panthers to an above .500 record.
New Orleans Saints: Running Back
The Saints made some noise this offseason bringing in Adrian Peterson via free agency. However, they still have running back Mark Ingram on their roster and in a pass-heavy offense, who is going to get the majority of the 15-20 handoffs per game? One could argue Peterson is far better than Ingram but he has not been able to stay healthy recently and is on the latter end of his career. Ingram knows the Saints system and has had a handful of great games, but dissapears from time to time and lacks consistency. Either way, defenses can expect to see a lot more run plays from the Saints this season, whether its Peterson or Ingram taking the majority of those handoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kicker
Lets show some love towards the kicker position for once. After drafting kicker Robert Aguayo in the second (not a typo) round in the 2016 draft, the Buccaneers had to be kicking themselves after missed nine of 31 field goal attempts and was 4-11 on 40 yard plus field goals. So this offseason they brought in veteran Nick Folk to challenge Aguayo and the two have been pretty much even throughout training camp. You might be laughing while reading this but ask the New England Patriots how important it is to have a good and reliable kicker.
Arizona Cardinals: Wide Receiver
Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, the wide receiver position was a huge dissapointment last season for the Cardinals. In fact, the second highest reception total by a wide receiver last season was 39 by John Brown (Fitzgerald had 107 receptions). Yes, David Johnson might be able to do it all – 1,239 rushing yards and 80 receptions last year – but some other receiver is going to have to emerge as a consistent threat to take the load off Johnson and Fitzgerald. It is going to be a battle between Brown, J. J. Nelson and Jaron Brown as to who will become that #2 wide receiver threat.
Los Angeles Rams: Wide Receiver
The Los Angeles Rams lost last years No. 1 wide receiver in Kenny Britt to free agency and outside of Tavon Austin, their is a big question mark at the position. They signed Robert Woods and drafted Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds to help fill the void. Those three along with returners Pharoah Cooper and Michael Thomas are going to need to step up, get open down the field and help out former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff.
San Francisco 49ers: Will Linebacker
The 49ers are thin at a lot of positions but have really nice depth at the linebacker position. Ahmad Brooks is returning and NaVorro Bowman hopes to play a full season injury-free. On the weakside, they planned to have Malcolm Smith but a torn pectoral muscle is going to sideline Smith for the entire season. Enter Reuben Foster and Ray-Ray Armstrong. Armstrong has some experience but not a whole lot, while the rookie Foster is coming off a shoulder injury that caused him to fall so late in the first round of the draft. Look for those two to duke it out for the weakside linebacker spot throughout preseason.
Seattle Seahawks: Running Back
Last year the Seahawks had 18 different players take handoffs. Some of that was due to injuries but also due to the poor play of those running backs on their roster. This offseason Seattle tried to address the problem by bringing in Eddie Lacy, who has struggled to find consistency since his sensational rookie season with Green Bay. Lacy along with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise are the three leading candidates to fight for the starting job. Rawls has looked like a mini-Marshawn Lynch at times but he has struggled to stay healthy for an entire season. Prosise on the other hand is more of a scat back similiar to Darren Sproles but could steal some handoffs from Lacy and Rawls during passing downs.