With 2017 NFL training camps finally underway this week, we broke down the NFC's top 20 position battles.
Chicago fans celebrated the end of the Jay Cutler era by promptlybooing their two latest quarterback saviors, Glennon and Trubisky. Glennon knows he's on borrowed time, considering the haul general manager Ryan Pace gave up for the No. 2 overall pick, but Glennon also owns some significant advantages. He's started more games in the NFL than Trubisky did in the ACC. It would take a scorching preseason for Trubisky to win the starting job in Week 1, especially with all the question marks throughout the Bears' offense ...
Cameron Meredith, undrafted in 2015, is in line to be Chicago's top receiver. Kevin White, taken seventh overall in the same year, is fighting just to get on the field. The Bears paid Steelers castoff Markus Wheaton big money in free agency, and fellow free-agent pickup Kendall Wright is the favorite for slot duties. That leaves White and reclamation project Victor Cruz with a lot to prove in August.
Lacy has the reputation of a man with untapped potential, but incumbent RB1 Rawls is the one with three games over 160 rushing yards in just 16 starts, including Seattle's playoff win in January. Rawls is also healthier entering camp and has greater familiarity in Seattle's system. In short: Don't assume that competition-crazed coach Pete Carroll will hand the starting job to Lacy just because he stays in shape. (And don't forget that C.J. Prosise will be a factor on passing downs regardless.)
It's never a good sign when the boss brings in a new employee with a similar skill set. Kelley may have cut the fat this offseason, but coach Jay Gruden noticed how Kelley's feel-good rookie campaign ran out of steam toward the end of the season. Enter Perine, a rookie who likes to lift cars and whom Gruden recently compared to an ox. Say hello to this year's feel-good story.
Left guard battles usually don't move the meter or make prestigious camp battles columns, but this isn't any ordinary job. The winner lines up in perhaps the choicest spot in the NFL, between All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. If Cooper, a former top-10 pick, can't turn his career around here, it's not going to happen. Green, a 2015 third-rounder and converted tackle, is the other option.
If left guard for the Cowboys is one of the easiest jobs in football, No. 2 cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals is the opposite. Arizona's annual exercise in futility to find someone to start opposite Patrick Peterson has almost turned into a running bit, opposing teams eager to expose the new guy with target after target. Special teams ace Bethel has impressed this offseason after a rough 2016 and looks like the favorite over second-year pro Williams. A late-camp free-agent addition is another possibility.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy's public praise of Montgomery, not to mention Montgomery's impressive game tape, indicate that the former receiver is the heavy favorite to start in the backfield in Week 1. How often Montgomery touches the ball could depend on his ability to improve in pass protection and how Green Bay's rookie running backs look in camp. On one hand, the Packers showed confidence in Montgomery by not selecting a running back until the fourth round of the 2017 draft, when they took BYU bruiser Jamaal Williams. Then again, Williams was the first of three backs the Packers drafted. It only takes one to demolish fantasy owners' best laid plans for Montgomery.
Playing opposite Brandon Graham and next to Fletcher Cox should provide plenty of big-play opportunities for the winner of this gig. Curry is best used as a part-time player despite his big contract, so the team brought in veteran Long and first-round pick Barnett to supplement the position. Everyone will play, but the Eagles would surely love Barnett to make an early impact.
Atlanta's pass rush made serious strides with the help of Vic Beasley last season, and the addition of Dontari Poe will only increase the team's pressure up the middle. Coach Dan Quinn just hopes the team has quality rather than quantity at the spot opposite Beasley. Veterans Clayborn, Reed and Shelby have all had their moments in the NFL, but could be at risk of release with a slow summer. McKinley, Atlanta's first-round pick in April, is the slight favorite for this spot if he can shake a persistent shoulder injury.
The Panthers drafted running back Christian McCaffrey (No. 8 overall) and wide receiver Curtis Samuel (No. 40) to play unconventional roles, so it only makes sense they are part of an unconventional position battle. The two versatile rookies, representing Carolina's push for a faster, more nimble offense, will try to prove they are more worthy of playing time than their more physical teammates. Wideout Devin Funchess, running back Jonathan Stewart and possibly even receiver Kelvin Benjamin are all at risk of losing snaps if the rookies show well.
Desperate times call for taking on other teams' problems. Robinson was going to struggle to make the Rams, the team that drafted him No. 2 overall back in 2014. So when Lions left tackle Taylor Deckerinjured his shoulder this offseason, Detroit opted to take in Robinson and his $3.2 million guaranteed salary. There will be talk of an open competition with Kouandjio and Lucas, but this is Robinson's career-saving job to lose.
Murray had a fun seven-week run as the presumptive replacement for Adrian Peterson before the Vikings drafted the Florida State star in the second round. Cook has a longer contract and a longer list of skills that can keep him on the field for all three downs. Consider it a good sign for the future of Minnesota's offense if Cook wins the job from the jump.
Kyle Shanahan's defense has intriguing depth throughout the front seven, especially at linebacker. Former All-Pro NaVorro Bowman, first-round pick Reuben Foster and pricey free-agent pickup Malcolm Smith are competing for two spots in the middle. Meanwhile, the 49ers have no fewer than five options for the "Leo" outside linebacker spot that Cliff Avril made his own in Seattle. Elvis Dumervil, Aaron Lynch, Arik Armstead, Eli Harold and Ahmad Brooks are all options in this battle royale.
The competition that has alreadyspawned countless Dan Hanzus bangers will divide families and test loyalties throughout Tampa. The Buccaneers stand to lose either way because cutting a sophomore second-round pick (Aguayo) or a veteran kicker with $750,000 guaranteed in his contract (Folk) carries a whiff of embarrassment. America, on the other hand, has already won.
Here's the quiet reason the Seahawks didn't trade Richard Sherman: There was already too much prime "Legion of Boom" real estate available with DeShawn Shead coming off injury. Lane, rookie third-rounder Griffin and special teamer Thorpe are the top candidates to start opposite Sherman, with Lane having the experience and the salary of a favorite.
This position ranks among the most cursed in football, a gateway to Russell Wilson pain and unemployment. Last year's fixer-upper, George Fant, added 25 pounds in hopes of holding off Jaguars import Luke Joeckel, the recipient of free agency's most generous contract for a struggling player coming off a torn ACL. At right tackle, recent high picks Germaine Ifedi (2016 first-rounder) and Ethan Pocic (2017 second-rounder) will square off. Should they both fail to pan out, it's past time to wonder if it's the coaching, not the players, who continue to endanger Wilson.
General manager Ted Thompson did his best to ensure the team doesn't run out of cornerbacks in the playoffs this time around. Drafting physical Washington product Kevin King No. 33 overall and bringing back Davon House in free agency gives defensive coordinator Dom Capers an array of options, including Damarious Randall, LaDarius Gunter and Quinten Rollins. This is the rare position battle on a championship contender that goes five deep and could wind up finishing in any order.
The football dork in me loves this position battle because the archetypes are so defined. A.J. Klein, who arrived from Carolina, is the free-agent pickup trying to emerge from the shadow of a legend (Luke Kuechly). Manti Te'o is the former punchline trying to revive his career. Craig Robertson is the journeyman and Stephone Anthony is the forgotten first-round pick fallen on hard times. It's been so long since one of the Saints' late-night Harrah's gambles at linebacker paid off.
Eagles fans have every right to be paranoid about this group. The safest pick to start, Mills, is a 2016 seventh-round pick who ranked dead last among Pro Football Focus qualifiers last season. The team is praying Douglas (a third-round pick in April) steps up, too, with journeyman Robinson the next best option.
The Rams drafted Gerald Everett to be a Jordan Reed-like playmaker for coach Sean McVay, but it was second-year pro Tyler Higbee who was making more noise during OTAs. Both tight ends could wind up on the field quite a bit at the expense of other receivers who operate most comfortably in the slot, such as Tavon Austin, Cooper Kupp and Pharoh Cooper.