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AFC training camp battles: Jets' annual QB race tops list

No team knows how to throw a summer QB competition party like the New York Jets. Since 2012, the main event at Jets camp has included Sanchez vs. Tebow, Sanchez vs. Geno, Fitzpatrick vs. Geno, and McCown vs. Hackenberg. That list of guilty pleasures serves as prologue to this year's derby, listed first below in our top 20 AFC position battles because it should be the last Jets QB competition for a long time.

This might be the platonic ideal of a training camp battle. In McCown, the Jets have a future coach and a veteran coming off perhaps the best season by a Jets quarterback since Chad Pennington. In Bridgewater, they have a player the entire league is rooting for, doubling as trade bait. In Darnold, they have the hopes and dreams of every Jets fan who has ever lived. (The afterlife is filled with Jets QB updates.)

Darnold is my slight favorite to win the job for Week 1, but there's no truly bad outcome here -- unless the rookie starts terrorizing reporters watching from the sidelines with Hackenbergian misfires.

Allen was supposed to be the highly drafted rookie quarterback who needed the most time to learn as a pro ... but he was drafted into the easiest competition to win available. McCarron was supposed to finally get his shot as a starter ... but he signed a backup's contract and reportedly didn't stand out in offseason practices. Peterman was supposed to be an afterthought, a tired punchline after his five-interception half last year ... but he reportedly showed a better command of Buffalo's offense than anyone else this offseason. Bills fans are going to miss Tyrod Taylor, and I'm not going to miss the Bills fans that I block on Twitter after they attack me for saying so.

3) Cleveland Browns running back: Nick Chubb vs. Carlos Hyde

Duke Johnson has his role. The passing-down dynamo, fresh off a contract extension, can count on at least 400 snaps if he's healthy. That leaves Hyde and Chubb to battle for the rest. Hyde has a big free-agent contract and the array of flashy moves that set beat writers' hearts afire, while Chubb has the long-term future with the Browns. This is a team that should be thinking about the future first.

LaFell, through no fault of his own, is symbolic of the Bengals' malaise the last two years. He's a replacement-level starter for a replacement-level squad with a quarterback stuck in the middle. Another season of playing LaFell smells like another bid for seven wins, as opposed to exploring the potential, uncertainty and excitement the rest of the young Bengals wideouts bring. With Boyd in the slot, it's up to second-year players Ross and Malone to emerge on the outside opposite A.J. Green.

5) New England Patriots wide receiver free-for-all

Monday's news that Super Bowl hero Malcolm Mitchell is on the trade block after more knee problems have emerged adds another wrinkle to a Patriots receiver group that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Julian Edelman is ostensibly Tom Brady's top target, but he's coming off ACL surgery and is suspended to start the year. Chris Hogan is locked in as the guy who will be underrated and overrated, depending on who you talk to. Cordarrelle Patterson is the centerpiece to Bill Belichick's evil-genius plans to disrupt the league's new kickoff rule. After that, Mitchell is battling with a motley crew for snaps: Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, rookie Braxton Berrios and the ghost of Hart Lee Dykes.

First one to make Tom Brady mad gets traded.

6) Baltimore Ravens quarterback: Joe Flacco vs. Lamar Jackson's social media power

This probably isn't a true battle. If Flacco continues to look healthy in camp, he will get one last shot to make his last contract look less like a lifetime achievement reward for one magical postseason. Still, it can't be easy for Flacco when the Ravens' team Twitter account can't wait to post every wow play from Jackson in camp, and coach John Harbaugh is already promising to play Jackson on Sundays. Just wait until he's lighting up third-string defenses in the preseason.

This battle between a 2016 fourth-rounder and a 2018 third-rounder is emblematic of the Broncos as a whole. They also have rookies battling for the third receiver spot (Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton) and similarly inexperienced players vying for the tight end job in Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli. It would sound more promising if not for Denver's difficulty at developing homegrown offensive players during the John Elway era.

The battle to be Brady's new blind-side protector comes down to a 6-foot-2 (and 3/4!) first-round pick considered by some to be too short to play left tackle and a 6-foot-8 trade acquisition who should conduct interviews exclusively with New England legend Mike Reiss. If Wynn loses out, he could wind up starting at guard. Hot take: The Patriots won't miss Nate Solder, either way.

9) Nearly the entire Indianapolis Colts defense

This is the second straight year this battle royale has made the list, a sign that general manager Chris Ballard's changes from a year ago didn't stick. That's largely attributable to new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' decision to change the Colts to a 4-3 base defense, which means a lot of holdovers like John Simon don't quite fit.

Every team says there is competition at every position. The Colts really mean it, with nearly every player besides defensive end Jabaal Sheard and cornerback Quincy Wilson in an uncertain situation. Even safety, where Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers return, has uncertainty because both of those guys are coming back from injury. Getting this unheralded group on the same page is a tall order for a first-time coordinator.

10) Indianapolis Colts offensive weapons (running back and wide receiver)

Fantasy football savant Chris Wesseling noted on a recent Around The NFL podcast that he'd pay particularly close attention to the Colts' running back battle this preseason. (Yes, Wess is still allowed to give fantasy advice.) With Andrew Luck back, there should be a lot of yards and points to go around. Marlon Mack returns in the backfield, but he did miss time this offseason following labrum surgery. Robert Turbin's suspension leaves rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines with a huge opportunity. The same principles apply at wideout, where Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers are battling to be the No. 2 option behind T.Y. Hilton.

Injuries and circumstance have a way of working these things out, but the Jets almost have too many intriguing options to play wideout.

Davis struggled badly at the end of 2017. Then Pittsburgh made the rare Steelers move of spending free agency money on Burnett, before surprisingly drafting Edmunds in the first round. These three are battling for two spots, and rookie defenders are always underdogs for playing time in Pittsburgh.

After playing peculiarly far from the line of scrimmage as a rookie, Peppers could wind up watching the action from even further away in his second season.

Miller will take over for Penn eventually; the only question is whether it will happen next month or next year.

15) Buffalo Bills wide receiver: Zay Jones vs. Jeremy Kerley vs. Andre Holmes vs. Rod Streater vs. four unheralded rookies

Whoever wins the Bills starting quarterback job is going to have an uphill battle throwing to this group fighting for snaps alongside Kelvin Benjamin.

16) Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker: Dee Ford vs. Breeland Speaks

Ford was supposed to be the long-term pass-rushing partner for Justin Houston in Kansas City. Now he has one last shot to prove he can stay healthy, with the team's surprise top draft pick providing competition.

17) Oakland Raiders backup running back: Doug Martin vs. DeAndre Washington vs. Jalen Richard

Martin reportedly looked great in offseason practices, but that's what we heard in Tampa last year before another down season. Richard was a better player than Martin over the last two years, and Washington deserves a long look as Marshawn Lynch's backup, too.

18) Denver Broncos backup quarterback: Paxton Lynch vs. Chad Kelly

Yeah, it's only a backup job. But it's a 2016 first-round pick against Jim Kelly's nephew. That's a spicy meatball!

The race to replace Joe Thomas does not have any proven combatants. The good news for Browns fans is that the other four starting offensive line spots appear set.

All five players here will get plenty of snaps. This is just a chance to point out the pedigree -- and the pay scale -- of a deep group that includes a recent first-round pick, a Dolphins living legend, two more of the team's highest-paid players and a "Hard Knocks" superstar.


Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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