Skip to main content

Fifteen enticing NFL position battles NOT involving quarterbacks

It's been a month since I previewed the biggest position battles heading into training camp. As the regular season nears, let's check out where some of the most intriguing battles stand. Adam Schein already broke down the latest on QB battles, so those are omitted here.

1) Seahawks running back: Eddie Lacy vs. Thomas Rawls vs. ... Chris Carson?

Carson, a seventh-round pick, wasn't even mentioned in my original writeup of this battle. Since then, he's passed second-year pro Alex Collins on the depth chart and could be coming for third-down back C.J. Prosise, Rawls, Lacy and every man, woman and child in the greater Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area. Rawls remains in line to start, but is dealing with a "minor" ankle injury. Prosise hurt himself in pregame warmups last week. Lacy hasn't looked explosive. Meanwhile, Carson runs with a smooth fury that pops off the screen. Pete Carroll has proven he'll play anyone who deserves it, giving Carson a chance to make a real impact.

2) Panthers playmakers: Rookies vs. veterans

Christian McCaffrey is competing to steal snaps from Jonathan Stewart and competing with other Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates. This preseason has only highlighted his speed and ability to run inside the tackles. With McCaffrey's rookie teammate Curtis Samuel just getting back on the field this week following a prolonged hamstring injury, there should be more snaps early in the season for third-year wideout Devin Funchess. The big-bodied receiver has received typically positive practice reviews followed by typically quiet games.

3) Titans wide receivers

Marcus Mariota looks all the way back from the broken leg that ended his 2016 season in late December, but his receiver group might be undercooked heading into the season. No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis has barely practiced since being drafted because of ankle surgery followed by a hamstring injury. Tennessee is hopeful he can return to the field in time for the team's fourth preseason game, but that might be a stretch. His snaps could be limited in Week 1 -- if he's even ready by then. It's also fair to wonder about free-agent pickup Eric Decker, who has missed time with an ankle injury after a strong start to his Titans tenure. Don't be shocked if impressive rookie slot receiver Taywan Taylor, taken in the third round, is a bigger factor than Davis early in the season.

4) Vikings running back: Dalvin Cook vs. Latavius Murray

You can't lose what you never had. And Murray never had a hold on this starting job, especially after he missed the first two weeks of training camp following ankle surgery. Cook has looked too fluid and too versatile to keep off the field. The rookie second-round pick should start Week 1 and likely will play more that Monday night than Adrian Peterson, who will be suiting up for the opposition.

5) Redskins running back: Rob Kelley vs. Samaje Perine

Kelley, like the rest of the Redskins starters, has done next to nothing with his preseason chances. But it won't impact the starting job that he earned in practice. Perine has played exclusively with the backups during training camp and the preseason. He'll start the 2017 campaign as the No. 3 running back behind Kelley and third-down back Chris Thompson. Former third-round pick Matt Jones could be traded or cut.

6) Bears No. 2 wide receiver: Four-way battle for snaps

Former top-10 pick Kevin White appears entrenched as the team's No. 2 receiver (opposite Cameron Meredith) by default. The Bears have to be concerned he's only produced 2 yards in two games during the preseason. White's competition with expensive free-agent pickup Markus Wheaton hasn't emerged because Wheaton has missed nearly all of camp following an appendectomy and a broken finger. The Bears can't cut him because of his guaranteed $6 million salary, but it's a strong bet they do release veteran Victor Cruz. Despite a salsa dance in the preseason opener, Cruz is lining up with the second- and third-team offense, while Kendall Wright is set to win the starting slot receiver job.

7) Packers running back: Ty Montgomery vs. three rookies

Montgomery's fumble in the team's first preseason game and subsequent leg injury opened the door for a rookie to emerge, but it hasn't happened. Fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams is first in line off the bench, but none of Green Bay's three rookie backs have stood out in pass protection or produced in the preseason. Montgomery returns this week and remains locked in as the team's starter.

8) Bills middle linebacker: Reggie Ragland vs. Preston Brown

This one is a wrap: Brown is the team's starter. Ragland, a second-round pick a year ago, is running as the third-team middle linebacker. It's a shame for a promising prospect who probably doesn't fit in new coach Sean McDermott's 4-3 scheme and could be struggling to recover from a torn ACL. A trade isn't out of the question.

9) Saints middle linebacker

If they can just be average. That has been the nightly prayer for Saints fans regarding the team's defense for years and there is more optimism it will be answered this season because of a revamped linebacker group. Luke Kuechly's former backup, A.J. Klein, is in line to play all three downs, while Manti Te'o will likely start at middle linebacker, coming off the field on passing downs. Rookie Alex Anzalone has also impressed. This group could go from embarrassing to professional in a hurry if Klein delivers.

10) Bengals running back: Joe Mixon vs. Jeremy Hill vs. Giovani Bernard

Going back to the pre-draft process, I've been a big believer in Mixon eventually emerging as a top-five NFL running back in his career. Nothing he's done in the preseason has changed my mind. With that qualifier out of the way, it's worth noting that Hill remains the team's starter and has run well in the preseason. The two players have mostly shared first-team reps and there's no reason to think that will change early in the season. Bernard has practiced throughout camp as he recovers from a torn ACL and should make his preseason debut this week as a passing-down specialist.

11) Raiders running back: Marshawn Lynch vs. Father Time vs. Jalen Richard vs. DeAndre Washington

Any skeptics wondering about Lynch's readiness to return to football have been assuaged by a strong training camp. He got his feet wet in the team's second preseason game and is ready to start Week 1. Richard, so explosive for the team last season, has surprisingly fallen behind Washington.

12) Chiefs running back: Spencer Ware vs. Charcandrick West vs. Kareem Hunt

The Chiefs gave Hunt the ball 11 times in 20 snaps with Kansas City's starters last week, after handing Ware a ceremonial "start" to the game. It feels like only a matter of time before Hunt, a third-round rookie, officially passes Ware on the depth chart.'s Mike Reiss put it well when he wrote that there probably won't be a true running back depth chart in New England, despite all the fantasy owners drafting Gillislee so early. (Gillislee missed valuable time in camp due to a hamstring injury, but is back on the field now.) Burkhead is the most versatile back of the group and my pick to get the most touches because he can be used in any situation. Lewis should have secured his roster spot because of his return duties and a strong camp as a runner.

14) Ravens front seven

The Ravens entered camp looking for some young, highly drafted prospects to step into starting roles. That's exactly what has happened. 2015 second-rounder Kamalei Correa is set to take over Zach Orr's vacated inside linebacker job. Brent Urban has earned a starting defensive end job. Matt Judon will start at outside linebacker and rookie Tyus Bowser has flashed as a pass rusher. Despite all their injuries, the Ravens have one of the deepest and most intriguing defenses in football. You'll know their names soon enough.

15) Broncos backup running back: Devontae Booker vs. De'Angelo Henderson vs. Jamaal Charles vs. Stevan Ridley

Jamaal Charles has one chance. The Hall of Fame longshot sat out the first two preseason games and now has one game to prove his worthiness on the roster. Henderson, a sixth-round pick, is going to make Charles' case tougher. The Coastal Carolina product flashed impressive big-play, change-of-pace skills in Denver's second preseason game, exactly what the team was looking for from Charles. Henderson will likely be claimed if the team tries to sneak him through waivers during final cuts. C.J. Anderson is the starter here and Denver is going to keep Booker on the active roster despite a wrist injury which has kept him out for all of training camp. Charles has beat the odds before, but he needs a big game Saturday night vs. Green Bay.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content