Sports

AFC: Biggest position battles to watch for on each team

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.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Cornerback

Buffalo’s new head coach Sean McDermott was a defensive guru in Carolina but is working with a lot less talent in Buffalo specifically at the corner position. After losing last season’s top corner Stephen Gilmore in free agency, this years projected starters are 3rd year man Ronald Darby and rookie out of LSU Tre’Davious White. While the two have a lot of talent, they have very little experience covering NFL boundary receivers. The Bills also added veterans Leonard Johnson and Shareece Wright to the mix this offseason to challenge the younger corners. Neither of the four are far better than the others which makes for good competition to watch as preseason progresses.

Miami Dolphins: Defensive End

The Mario Williams expirement in Miami did not end so well so its on to the next one – well actually two – for the Dolphins. During free agency this offseason, Miami signed long-time Ram William Hayes and drafted Missouri pass rusher Charles Harris to fill the spot on the other side of Cameron Wake. Hayes brings the experience and technique while Harris has more explosiveness than the veteran. We know what Wake is capable of doing on his own, but if he wants to avoid being double-teamed, he is going to need somebody else to relieve some pressure off him.

New England Patriots: Defensive End

The Patriots lost pass rushers Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich this offseason but were able to get one starter-caliber defensive end in return in Kony Ealy. The opposing end to Ealy is still up for grabs. Rookies Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise along with veteran Trey Flowers look to battle it out for that other end position. A good pass rush has always been a key to Belichick’s defensive system so the one who can get after the quarterback better just might win the job.

New York Jets: Quarterback

Image result for 2017 training camp jets

The Jets have a lot of holes and question marks on their roster but their biggest one is who will be taking snaps next season. New York brought in Josh McCown in the offseason and he might have a slight edge over Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but that gap is very thin. Petty made a couple starts last year after the Jets gave up on Ryan Fitzpatrick and their season was down the drain. Hackenberg essentially went through a redshirt year last year, but after watching Fitzpatrick, Petty and Geno Smith play, did he really learn anything valuable? I’d bet that head coach Todd Bowles does not name his starter until after the third preseason game, maybe the fourth game.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Tight End

I do not think any other team has had worse luck at a single position than the Ravens have had the past two years. They already lost Dennis Pitts (hip) and Crockett Gilmore (knee) for the entire season. Benjamin Watson returns this year but he missed the entire 2016 season due to an achilles tear so he may not come back as explosive. Other tight ends on the roster include Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams and Larry Donnell. This position is up for grabs as it gets but I would put my money on Donnell and Watson to seperate themselves from the rest.

Cincinnati Bengals: Running Back

Image result for bengals 2017 training camp running backs

The Bengals have a very deep backfield that consists of Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and rookie Joe Mixon. Bernard and Hill wreaked havoc on NFL defenses just a couple years ago but an injury to Bernard (ACL) and a dip in production from Hill hurt the Bengals run game last year. At the draft this year, the Bengals took a risk and drafted the controversial Mixon in the second round even with their crowded backfield. All three could be starters on any NFL team so this should make for a very interesting preseason position battle to keep an eye on.

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

The Browns have the same glaring hole on their roster that they have had the past decade or so, quarterback. This year the battle is between veterans Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and rookie DeShone Kizer. Osweiler was given a huge contract after partially leading a stacked Denver Broncos team to a Super Bowl during Peyton Manning’s injuries that year. John Elway and the Broncos sure are happy they didn’t cough up the money like Houston did. After a very subpar year in Houston, Osweiler was then traded to Cleveland this offseason which might be his last chance to start in the NFL. Kessler on the other hand started nine games for the Browns last year and its tough to gage how well he did since the Browns were so bad as a team. Lastly, Kizer the rookie from Notre Dame. Notre Dame quarterbacks have not had the most success recently but Kizer looks to break that trend and has already impressed a lot of the coaching staff in training camp.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback

The Steelers offense has been nearly untouchable the past few seasons but have failed to reach the Super Bowl due to their defense. Their secondary in particular is among one of the worst in the league. Artie Burns looks to be the starting corner on one side but the other side is completely up for grabs. It will be a battle between veterans William Gay, Coty Sensabaugh, Senquez Golson and rookie Cameron Sutton for the starting boundary and nickel corner spots available.

AFC South

Houston Texans: Quarterback

Image result for texans 2017 training camp quarterbacks

Ever since the fall of Matt Schaub, the Texans have tried just about everyone they could have tried at quarterback. After signing Osweiler to a huge deal last year, Houston has already moved on by releasing him this offseason which leaves two quarterbacks battling for the open position; Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson. According to head coach Bill O’Brien, Savage will be the starter going into preseason but don’t count out Watson on starting the regular season opener. Watson is coming off back-to-back National Championship runs at ClemsonUniversity, defeating Alabam this past January.  While Watson isn’t ‘fundamentally sound’ according to NFL scouts, Savage has yet to throw a touchdown pass in 92 career pass attempts. If I am Savage this preseason with Watson gunning for my starting spot, I am not sleeping too well at night.

Indianapolis Colts: Middle Linebacker

The Colts were pretty atrocious at stopping the run game last year but they brought in some new linebackers to help the cause. Sean Spence, John Bostic and Anthony Walker Jr. were brought in during the ofseason to compete with returners Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison. While Spence and Bostic have the best track record, expect the other three to give them a run for the money as they try to patch things up in Chuck Pagano’s run defense.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Left Tackle/Guard

Branden Albert’s retirement could not have come at a worse time for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Heading into training camp, it looked like Albert would man the blindside and rookie Cam Robinson would settle into left guard and not have to jump to tackle right away. Now Robinson might be tasked with having to play left tackle despite being not ready and the Jaguars still have a hole to fill in at left guard. Or if they choose to keep Robinson at guard they are going to have to find a new left tackle and fast if they want to keep Blake Bortles protected.

Tennessee Titans: Cornerback

The Titans have on side locked down thanks to the offseason signing of Logan Ryan, but the other corner spot is completely up for grabs. 2017 first round pick Adoree’ Jackson is aiming to be the other starter but will be tasked with beating LeShaun Sims and Brice McCain. Jackson has huge upside and is as talented as they come but might see more time at the nickel corner this year unless he can prove he can be consisten out on the edge.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Running Back

Although one might think the biggest battle might at quarterback, Paxton Lynch does not seem ready to be the team’s day 1 starter. Instead lets take a look at Denver’s crowded backfield. The Broncos currently have C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker on their roster and all three have starting potential. Anderson’s season came to and end early last season due to injury, but he did not look like his old dominant self. Booker shined for the Broncos in the latter half of the season but it remains a question mark if he could do it all year. And for Charles, he might be one of the most explosive backs we have ever seen in the NFL but the big question mark is will he be able to stay healthy because last year he only appeared in three games for the Chiefs. To add to that, Booker and Charles will miss some time early in preseason which will give former veteran starters Stevan Ridley and Bernard Pierce a chance to earn a spot on the roster. Talk about a crowded backfield.

Kansas City Chiefs: Wide Receiver

I dont know what the Chiefs were thinking when they released Maclin this offseason but now it leaves a huge hole to fill in the offense. Speedster Tyreke Hill burst onto the scene last year but can he be the team’s No. 1 option. And what about the other wide out position? I don’t know what the Chiefs front office has seen but Chris Conley and Albert Wilson have not shown a lot of upside in their time in the league. Right now, the Chiefs are entering the preseason without a true No. 1 wide receiver.

Los Angeles Chargers: Wide Receiver

Image result for chargers 2017 training camp wide receivers

The Chargers bad luck continues to this season as it looks like 2017 first round pick Mike Williams will miss the entire season with a back injury. On top of that, it looks like Keenan Allen will not be ready to go early on in preseason so that opens the window for other receivers on the roster to earn some playing time. Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman will be the front runners to replace Williams and Allen and hopefully give quarterback Phillip Rivers threats on the outside to work with.

Oakland Raiders: Middle Linebacker

The Raiders did not resign Perry Riley Jr. this offseason which leaves a vacancy in the middle of their front seven. Ben Heeney is still battling some injuries early on in preseason which leaves second year players Cory James and Tyrell Adams along with rookie Marquel Lee to fight for the starting spot. I would not be surprised if the Raiders resign Riley Jr. or some other veteran free agent during preseason in the event that neither Adams, James or Lee works out for them.

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