Around the League  

 

Top 25 AFC position battles during training camp

We broke ground on our top 25 position battles in the NFC last week. Now it's time for the AFC:

25. Kicker battles!

We're coming out of the gates swinging. Rookie Caleb Sturgis and former Pro Bowl selection Dan Carpenter already are battling in Miami, where the two kickers are taking turns day-by-day. (Pity the Sturgis fan who shows up on a Carpenter day.) ... In Cleveland, Brandon Bogotay battles Shayne Graham in the battle to decide which player the fans resent for not being Phil Dawson. ... Rian Lindell will try to keep his job in Buffalo over Dustin Hopkins.

24. New York Jets tight end: Kellen Winslow vs. Jeff Cumberland

Either way, the Jets fans lose. It's easy to imagine the Jets talking themselves into Winslow as a difference-maker, but the odds are against him staying healthy through camp, much less an entire season.

Camp coverage on NFL Network
Watch "Inside Training Camp" this week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network.

» Complete training camp coverage

23. Baltimore Ravens No. 3 wide receiver: Tandon Doss vs. Deonte Thompson vs. ...

The Ravens are stretching Jacoby Jones by asking him to be a No. 2 receiver, an experiment that is off to a rough start. The No. 3 spot lacks a great option, with David Reed, rookie Aaron Mallette, Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson in the mix. We like Mallette as a sleeper. We also like the chances that the Ravens find a veteran at some point.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers No. 3 wide receiver: Markus Wheaton vs. Jerricho Cotchery vs. Plaxico Burress

Burress probably is fighting just to make the team, but it's surprising he's on the Steelers to begin with. Wheaton is a fantasy football sleeper and could make a big impact as a rookie if he can pass the trusty Cotchery on the depth chart.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars cornerbacks

Journeyman Alan Ball and rookie third-round draft pick Dwayne Gratz are the starters in theory. But Mike Harris, Marcus Trufant and a gang of other players who are tested as NFL starters also are in the mix. New coach Gus Bradley did great work with the Seattle Seahawks' secondary, and now he will have to work his magic here.

20. Cincinnati Bengals No. 2 wide receiver: Mohamed Sanu vs. Brandon Tate vs. Marvin Jones

With Andrew Hawkins likely playing the slot, the enviable spot opposite A.J. Green is wide open, according to coach Marvin Lewis. This should be Sanu's job to lose.

19. Baltimore Ravens cornerback: Jimmy Smith vs. Corey Graham

Smith is a potential future star, but Graham was Baltimore's best cornerback during the team's Super Bowl run. Lardarius Webb will start if he's healthy.

18. Indianapolis Colts wide receiver: T.Y. Hilton vs. Darrius Heyward-Bey

Hilton is one of our favorite breakout choices. DHB offers speed but has questionable instincts and hands as a wide receiver. Both players will be on the field plenty because the Colts love flooding the field with wideouts.

17. Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver: Jon Baldwin and Donnie Avery

The Colts made Avery look like a new man last season, but they weren't that interested in keeping him. Baldwin is an annual offseason all-star who is due to make a bigger impact.

16. Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker: Arthur Brown vs. Jameel McClain vs. Daryl Smith

Brown, the team's hand-picked successor to Ray Lewis, should start on Day 1. McClain needs to show he's healthy enough to grab the other spot.

15. New England Patriots tight ends

Fantasy leaguers assume that Jake Ballard is the favorite to start, but he is coming off a very serious injury. Daniel Fells is the better bet to start, while Michael Hoomanawanui and undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld also could earn snaps. The Patriots could go from the two tight end offense to the zero tight end offense. Then again ...

14. New England Patriots wide receivers

Releasing Donald Jones didn't exactly clear things up. After Danny Amendola, the team has rookies Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson and impressive undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins vying for snaps. Veteran Michael Jenkins lined up as a starter in the offseason. We like Julian Edelman's chances of emerging.

13. Miami Dolphins defensive end: Dion Jordan vs. Olivier Vernon vs. Jared Odrick

Jordan is the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and Odrick was a first-round draft pick in 2010, but Vernon actually might be the favorite here. Jordan will be brought along slowly, and Odrick also will play inside.

12. San Diego Chargers wide receiver battle royale

What a group of boom-or-bust players: Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, rookie Keenan Allen and Robert Meachem. We're assuming Malcolm Floyd starts if healthy.

11. Cincinnati Bengals cornerback: Dre Kirkpatrick fighting uphill

It's rare to see a first-round draft pick from only one year ago listed fourth on the depth chart, but that's where Kirkpatrick currently stands. Terence Newman, Leon Hall and Adam Jones are ahead of Kirkpatrick, who has to prove he can stay healthy.

10. Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker:  Erik Walden vs. Bjorn Werner

Walden was a surprisingly expensive free-agent pickup; Werner was a surprising first-round draft pick by the Colts because he'll have to learn how to play standing up. Colts fans should be rooting for Werner.

9. Kansas City Chiefs cornerback: Dunta Robinson vs. Sean Smith

Smith signed a huge contract as a free agent, but he lined up in the offseason as a nickel back behind Robinson. It's a good problem for the Chiefs to have.

8. Indianapolis Colts running back: Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Vick Ballard

Let's assume that Donald Brown is just fighting for scraps here. Ballard proved he's a complete, workmanlike back as a rookie. Bradshaw offers a higher ceiling if he can stay healthy. This looks like a committee, either way.

7. Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard vs. Barkevious Mingo

The Browns have the makings of a nifty pass rush with Paul Kruger locked into one spot. Sheard is an underrated player and has a good chance to keep Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft, in a complementary role.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne

The Jaguars' brass publicly has supported Gabbert all offseason, but actions speak louder. Gabbert and Henne have split practice reps equally; Henne has a real shot to win this thing.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker: Jason Worilds vs. Jarvis Jones

The Steelers tend to bring rookies along slowly, but Worilds' lack of development is one reason why the Steelers needed to draft Jones in the first place. We like Jones' chances of making an early impact.

4. New York Jets quarterback: Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith

The rumor mill hasn't been kind to Smith, but we'd exercise caution in naming Sanchez the winner. The last two years of game film matters a lot more than practice reports.

3. Denver Broncos Running Back: Montee Ball vs. Ronnie Hillman vs. Knowshon Moreno

We assume Ball will get the call, but he has to prove he can handle the role. As Moreno knows well, not every highly drafted running back lives up to expectations.

2. Oakland Raiders

Yes, the entire team is a position battle. We counted only eight surefire starters on the roster, and that list includes some players with medical concerns, like Darren McFadden and first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden. Quarterback Matt Flynn would have to faceplant badly to lose his job.

1. Buffalo Bills quarterback: EJ Manuel vs. Kevin Kolb

I'm fascinated to see coach Doug Marrone's offense in the NFL, and I'm intrigued to see how quickly Manuel can adapt to the pro level. This is a legitimate 50-50 competition, which is rare at quarterback. Yes, the 2013 Buffalo Bills are interesting!

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Fan Discussion

NFL News
CONTENT
15