NFL position battles to watch during training camp for all 32 teams

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 6, 2019

As the NFL preseason schedule gets cranking with upcoming games, there are intense battles for starting jobs and roster spots raging all across the league.

Who will start at quarterback in Miami and Washington? Who will be snapping to Drew Brees? When the Patriots go four-wide, who will be running routes for Tom Brady?

NFL Nation reporters break down the most important competitions in training camp for all 32 teams.

Jump to a team:






Buffalo Bills

Right Guard

If everyone is healthy, the Bills' starting left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle are set. The problem is everyone is not healthy. Injuries to center Mitch Morseand guardsQuinton Spain and Spencer Long have shuffled things around through the Bills' first week of training camp, but some combination of Spain, Long and Jon Feliciano will have to man the guard spots. So far, it appears Spain is the team's best option at left guard, with Feliciano and Long duking it out on the other side. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Miami Dolphins


This might be the most interesting position battle in the NFL, a true youthful potential vs. veteran performance to decide which quarterback will lead the rebuilding Dolphins. Head coach Brian Flores said Ryan Fitzpatrick is clearly the leader after one week of training camp, but Josh Rosen has performed better in Week 2 as he continues to grow in the offense. Many fans want Rosen to start regardless of who wins the battle because he's the only quarterback with a chance to be a long-term answer for a team planning for the future. However, Flores refuses to lie to his team about the value of competition and seems set to start the better performer for Week 1. It's likely that both will play this year, but the season becomes a lot more interesting if Rosen can steal the starting job from Fitzpatrick in Week 1. -- Cameron Wolfe

New England Patriots

Wide Receiver

Julian Edelman and first-round pick N'Keal Harry are locks, and Phillip Dorsett is a key piece, but how does it shake out after them? Maurice Harris and Braxton Berrios are next on the depth chart (Demaryius Thomas isn't yet cleared for action), with veteran Dontrelle Inman also looking to make a charge. Harris has made an early impression on the coaching staff with his smarts and tactical route-running. As is often the case with backup receivers, contributions on special teams could be an important tiebreaker. Berrios has punt-return experience, but he has yet to make his mark at receiver. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets

Outside Linebacker

They're experimenting with various combinations and packages. Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Copeland are the incumbents, but Tarell Basham and Harvey Langi are getting some first-team reps. Jenkins is the best of the bunch. After him, it's fluid. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

Left Guard

The left guard spot became even more wide open with the unexpected release of former starter Alex Lewis on Monday. Baltimore's options include: Jermaine Eluemunor, who failed his conditioning test to start camp after working with the starters in the spring; Ben Powers, a rookie fourth-round pick; and James Hurst, who finished last season as the starting left guard but has primarily worked at tackle this year. Coach John Harbaugh said he wants someone to step up and seize the job. A week into camp, no one has done so. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Left Guard

With veteran offensive lineman Clint Boling retiring because of a blood clot, the Bengals have a spot to fill on one of their most criticized units. Veterans Christian Westerman and John Jerry have worked with the first team during the first few practices of training camp. At Texas A&M, new offensive line coach Jim Turner was known to tinker with his front five during camp. Between Westerman, Jerry, Trey Hopkins and Michael Jordan, the Bengals have plenty of options to evaluate. -- Ben Baby

Cleveland Browns

Right Guard

The Browns traded away 2018 starter Kevin Zeitler for defensive end Olivier Vernon, which leaves right guard as the only real position battle remaining on the offense. The Browns have been rotating Austin Corbett, Kyle Kalis and Eric Kush so far in camp. They need one of those three to emerge to solidify the offensive line. -- Jake Trotter

Pittsburgh Steelers

Right Tackle

Matt Feiler has the inside track after 10 starts a year ago and a strong training camp. But Chukwuma Okorafor turns 22 just before the first preseason game and has excellent feet, which helps offset the occasional camp struggle. Expect the Steelers to mix lineups throughout August to maximize competition between the two. -- Jeremy Fowler


Houston Texans

Offensive Line

Yes, that's five positions, but Bill O'Brien is still moving his linemen around to find the right combination. Nick Martin should be a lock at center, and Seantrel Henderson is expected to start at right tackle. The line could look like Matt Kalil (LT), first-round pick Tytus Howard (LG), Martin and either second-round pick Max Scharping or last year's starterZach Fulton (RG), and Henderson. Offensive linemen Greg Mancz, Martinas Rankin (2018 draft pick) and Julién Davenport (2017 draft pick) have a chance to compete for a starting spot, as well. -- Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts


Pierre Desir is locked in at one cornerback spot, and Kenny Moore is the NFL's highest-paid slot corner. Rookie Rock Ya-Sin, who was selected in the second round of the draft, is battling Quincy Wilson to be the No. 2 cornerback on the outside. Wilson has the edge in experience, as he's headed into his third season, but Ya-Sin has made his presence felt early in camp with his physicality. He's gone toe-to-toe physically with the taller Devin Funchess while also chasing the speedy T.Y. Hilton. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

Right Tackle

There really aren't any starting jobs open, but it will be interesting to see how things shake out at right tackle once the preseason begins. The Jaguars drafted Jawaan Taylor in the second round, and the logical thought is it's his job to lose -- but the Jaguars also signed former first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, who has gotten first-team reps, too. Taylor has some lower-body mechanics that he needs to clean up, but he's strong in his upper body and has the nasty approach line coaches love. Left tackle Cam Robinson is coming off a torn ACL and hasn't practiced yet, so it's important for the Jaguars to get at least one tackle spot settled. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

Right Guard

The competition between veteran Kevin Pamphile and rookie Nate Davis for the final starting spot on the offensive line is one to watch. Once the pads go on and the players can bang, a more true picture can be formed. Davis made a statement to offensive line coach Keith Carter by quickly moving away from the "frog stance" he used in college. Pamphile is entering his sixth NFL season and started two games for the Titans last year. -- Turron Davenport


Denver Broncos

Wide Receiver

It's not that Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton should be concerned about their standing, it's just that after those three, the chances for a wild-card player to make the roster are the highest at this position. The Broncos are optimistic about Sanders' recovery from Achilles surgery in December but might keep an extra receiver to start the season. Tim Patrick, River Cracraft, Trinity Benson, Kelvin McKnight and 2019 draft pick Juwann Winfree have each shown their potential value. Toss in sixth-year veteran Nick Williams, who arrived in late July and immediately showed a comfort level in the offense, and the competition is plenty crowded. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs


Veteran Daniel Sorensen is occupying one starting spot along with Tyrann Mathieu, but rookie Juan Thornhill could earn that position by the time the season starts. Thornhill has shown in the early days of camp some much-needed playmaking ability. -- Adam Teicher

Los Angeles Chargers


The Chargers have a three-way battle for the starting free safety job. Rayshawn Jenkins is the guy for now after earning the job at the end of last season. But the Chargers selected Nasir Adderley in the second round in April because of his range and ability to take the ball away. Adderley has flashed during camp but has been slowed by a nagging hamstring injury. Veteran defensive back Jaylen Watkins would have been the starter last season had he not suffered an ACL knee injury during preseason play. The Chargers like Watkins' versatility, and he remains part of the competition if he can stay healthy. -- Eric D. Williams

Oakland Raiders


Define "most important" on a team coming off a 4-12 season. But with so many starting gigs already spoken for, let's go with punter. Johnny Townsend was a fifth-round draft pick last year and struggled. Mightily. His 43.2-yards average ranked 32nd in the league, and his 38.2 net average was 30th. Undrafted rookie free agent A.J. Cole, meanwhile, is third in NC State history with a 42.2-yards average. Townsend is more of a directional kicker, and Cole goes for the booming, hang-time kicks. -- Paul Gutierrez


Dallas Cowboys

Backup Quarterback

That the biggest battle is to see who will be Dak Prescott's backup speaks to the state of the Cowboys' roster. On offense, the roles are set, although this is assuming holdout running back Ezekiel Elliott will be back sooner rather than later. On defense, the roles for the key players remain the same. If the Cowboys lose Prescott, they are in trouble, which is why all eyes are on Cooper Rush, who has handled the role for most of the past two seasons but has thrown only three passes, and Mike White, who was inactive for every game last season. This will play itself out in the preseason, but both have had some good and not-so good moments in camp. If both struggle in the preseason games, the Cowboys could be forced to look for a better backup -- something Jerry Jones would like to avoid. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants


This really is the only open competition for a starting spot at camp. It's either Jon Halapio (the favorite) or Spencer Pulley. Both started last season. Halapio is getting most of the first-team reps at training camp and fits what the Giants are looking for as they build a power line. He has played well, but offensive line coach Hal Hunter said it will come down to how both play in the first three preseason games before a final decision is made. -- Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles


Projected starters Ronald Darby (ACL) and Jalen Mills (foot) are still working their way back from injuries, providing opportunity for those who are healthy -- and heightening the urgency for someone to step up. Sidney Jones has risen to the occasion thus far. Working both outside and in the slot, the former second-round pick out of Washington has made several big plays during camp. He's competing with guys such asAvonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas for playing time. -- Tim McManus

Washington Redskins


There are definite battles at the two outside receiver spots, but nothing matters more than who will start at quarterback. Technically, it's a three-man race between Colt McCoy, Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins. But realistically, it's between Haskins and Keenum. They've alternated on a daily basis who takes the first-team reps. McCoy has played in this system for five years; that matters and gives him the early edge. The offense functions at a different tempo with him on the field. Keenum, though, has started 30 games combined the past two years and helped Minnesota reach the NFC Championship Game two years ago. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

Wide Receiver

The Bears are set at the top of the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Cordarrelle Patterson, but a fierce battle is underway for the final spots. Just two seasons ago, Kendall Wright was Chicago's leading receiver with 59 catches. Fast-forward to 2019, and the Bears suddenly have great depth at the position. Veteran Marvin Hall, former seventh-round pick Javon Wims and 2019 fourth-round pick Riley Ridley are all pushing hard to make the roster. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

Offensive Guard

Graham Glasgow is expected to be a starter -- and should be despite working here and there with the second unit instead of the first throughout camp -- but who starts at the team's other guard spot remains wide open. Kenny Wiggins appeared to be the early favorite, but he's been getting a bunch of reps with the second team, as well. Joe Dahl and Oday Aboushi have gotten a lot of work with the No. 1s, although all four have seen time there. On a unit on which continuity and familiarity are important, competition for the fifth starting job will be worth watching. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

Backup Quarterback

Maybe it doesn't matter because the Packers' season would be ruined if anything happened to Aaron Rodgers, but they need to solidify his backup. The battle between DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle and Manny Wilkins can best be described as "meh." None has stood out. Could this be 2013 all over? That summer, the Packers cut all of their backups and signed Seneca Wallace in Week 1. Perhaps a veteran with experience in new coach Matt LaFleur's system will become available. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

No. 3 Wide Receiver

The position battles in Vikings camp center on backup roles. The third wide receiver is intriguing because that role has changed yearly in Minnesota's offense. Behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe appears to be the leading candidate for the job. There are some other in the mix, including ex-Broncos wideout Jordan Taylor and two late-round draft picks, but if Beebe can stay healthy, the shifty slot receiver could present the best fit for the job coupled with his abilities as a returner. -- Courtney Cronin


Atlanta Falcons

Left Guard

James Carpenter and Jamon Brown have rotated throughout camp, and the initial unofficial depth chart even listed Brown as the starter until it was changed to Carpenter a day later. Then Carpenter left Sunday's practice with a hip flexor strain, which could affect the competition if the injury lingers. Whatever the case, the Falcons need stability at this position and at right tackle, where Ty Sambrailo is competing with rookie Kaleb McGary, who had a heart procedure that could keep him out for weeks. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

Free Safety

It's really the only starting spot one could consider totally up for grabs. The Panthers are hoping second-year player Rashaan Gaulden steps up and owns it. But cornerback Ross Cockrell is getting some time there because of his cover ability. Cole Luke could be a dark horse, but if Gaulden doesn't win the job outright, don't be surprised if the answer isn't on the current roster. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints


Pro Bowler Max Unger retired, leaving an open competition between rookie Erik McCoy, third-year pro Cameron Tom and newly signed veteran Nick Easton. McCoy is the clear front-runner after the Saints traded up to draft him in Round 2. And he appears to be off to a good start in training camp, where he has taken the majority of snaps with the starters in recent days. But he also has the steepest learning curve -- especially considering the playcalling aspect of the job. So the preseason will be vital. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Right guard

The Bucs had a huge hole there last season, with Caleb Benenoch struggling big-time in a rotation with Evan Smithand Alex Cappa(Benenoch is now a backup swing tackle). They never filled it in the offseason, with the exception of signing a rotational player in Earl Watford. Unless they want to average 3.9 yards per carry again on the ground, someone needs to solidify this position or the Bucs might look elsewhere. -- Jenna Laine


Arizona Cardinals


Veteran A.Q. Shipley is trying to win back the starting spot he had to vacate last training camp when he tore his ACL. He was replaced by Mason Cole, who was a rookie out of Michigan last year. Cole proved himself to be durable and reliable, being the only offensive lineman to play in all 16 games last season. Shipley has been getting the majority of the first-team reps, giving him valuable time with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. But the battle isn't over. Cole is 10 years younger than Shipley and was drafted to be the Cardinals' future center, so he won't be written off so quickly. -- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

Nose Tackle

The Rams let Ndamukong Suh depart in free agency and now they're dependent on two young players to try to replace him. Coaches have been impressed by the development of Sebastian Joseph-Day, a sixth-round pick from Rutgers in 2018. Joseph-Day made the 53-man roster as a rookie but was inactive throughout the season. He will be challenged by Greg Gaines, a fourth-round pick from Washington. After drafting Gaines in April, coach Sean McVay said he would be a candidate to start immediately. -- Lindsey Thiry

San Francisco 49ers


Offenses regularly targeted the spot opposite Richard Sherman in 2018 with great success, so the 49ers signed talented but injury-prone Jason Verrett as a potential solution. A healthy Verrett will have a legitimate chance to win the starting job, but he's going to have to do some work to surpass an apparently improved, incumbent,Ahkello Witherspoon, who struggled in his sophomore season but has had a strong offseason and camp so far. Either way, the defense would benefit greatly from a heated competition, leading to improved production from this spot in 2019. -- Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks


Tedric Thompson has been working with the No. 1 defense at free safety with Delano Hill (hip) sidelined and rookie second-round pick Marquise Blair (hamstring) only recently returning to practice. Those three are competing for a starting spot next to veteran Bradley McDougald, who can play either safety position. Thompson took over for Earl Thomas last season and has the most starting experience. Hill is a strong safety with strong coverage and tackling skills. Blair is known as a big hitter but does not have a big frame. -- Brady Henderson

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