Gregg Rosenthal is breaking down the most compelling position battles in each conference. First up is the AFC.
Fitzpatrick reportedly played better than Rosen throughout the spring, which isn't a huge surprise. There's a reason why Fitzpatrick has thrown for over 29,000 yards in a career that began on Mike Martz's St. Louis Rams: Fitz can play! This is the only legitimate starting quarterback competition in the AFC and a close race doesn't necessarily go to the youngster. It's easier to imagine the Dolphins replacing Fitzpatrick as the starter after a few losses, once new Dolphins coach Brian Flores decides it's time to evaluate Rosen's potential to lead the team in 2020 and beyond.
McCoy could face a numbers crunch if everyone else at the position stays healthy, which usually doesn't happen in August. Murphy and Perry are listed here because of their special teams value, something that McCoy, Gore and Yeldon don't provide. It's possible Yeldon is the odd man out if he suffers a camp injury after earning only $500,000 guaranteed on his contract. Singletary is safe as a third-round rookie, and I don't want to live in a world where The Inconvenient Truth's career ends on cutdown day.
The very existence of this battle is disrespectful to Lindsay and shows how difficult it is to shake pre-draft evaluations. Lindsay was a Pro Bowl revelation as an undrafted rookie a season ago, but a late-season wrist injury combined with a new coaching staff, Freeman's superior size (240 pounds!) and his draft position as a 2018 third-rounder means that nothing will be handed to Lindsay. All signs point to a committee approach under new coordinator Rich Scangarello in an effort to keep both players fresh. "Scangs" has alluded to using the two backs similarly to how the Falcons used Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, so Lindsay will have to earn his playing time all over again. A healthy start to camp is aiding that effort.
Bill Belichick's annual plan to throw receivers against the wall and see who sticks has fewer options this year. With Julian Edelman hurt to start camp, Harry and Dorsett look like the only safe options above to even make the roster. Thomas has to show he's healthy or risk getting cut, while the entire group should be ready to face increased competition via trade or the waiver wire.
This battle is mostly about how snaps will be divvied up among Patriots backs early in the season and whether Burkhead will make the team. Fullback James Develin and Bolden are good bets to make the squad because of special teams value, while the Patriots may as well induct James White into the PatriotsHall of Fame now. That leaves Burkhead fighting for his livelihood, while Harris and Michel compete for between-the-tackles carries. Michel's persistent knee troubles explain why the Patriots drafted Harris in the third round.
The Chiefs jettisoned star pass rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford in anticipation of transitioning to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3 scheme. Trade acquisition Frank Clark will hold one starting job, while general manager Brett Veach did an underrated job building quality depth throughout the position. Okafor and Ogbah are solid, if unspectacular, rotational ends. Kpassagnon and especially Speaks showed flashes of potential last year. If the Chiefs' defense is going to improve, this group will need to step up.
Moncrief was the subject of some offseason hype pieces because of his instant chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. He's certainly shown more in his erratic career than Washington did as a rookie, while Johnson is a third-round newbie on a team that usually develops its players slowly. Meanwhile, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer are poised to duke it out for snaps in the slot.
There's an assumption that Fant will step into the starting job as one of Joe Flacco's top receivers immediately, but his sluggish first week of camp has provided a reminder that it's rarely that easy for rookie tight ends. This battle is ultimately about Fant taking on expectations and showing he can mentally handle the myriad responsibilities of an every-down tight end.
Outside linebacker in Baltimore's system has a long tradition of getting guys paid, including Terrell Suggs throughout his 16-year Ravens career. Suggs' departure surprised the Ravens and the team failed in its bid to keep Za'Darius Smith from the Packers. That leaves Matt Judon as the only incumbent defensive coordinator Don Martindale can trust. Bowser (second-rounder) and Williams (third-rounder) have struggled to develop despite getting drafted pretty highly in 2017. New general manager Eric DeCosta took Ferguson in the third round of this year's draft, then took fliers on Ray and McPhee, who once used this position as a stepping stone to his own big free-agent contract elsewhere. The sheer quantity of options here is a sign that the position is in unfamiliar territory.
I like this group more than most. There are a ton of ifs, but Westbrook's athleticism, Lee's savvy in the slot, Conley's toughness and Cole's big-play ability go together well. There's enough talent here to give Nick Foles a solid supporting cast, but the pecking order remains up for grabs.