Training camp battles will look a little different this season, like most everything else. Gregg Rosenthal broke down the most compelling competitions in the AFC earlier this week; now, the NFC is up.
Not enough is made about how different these two players are in style, not to mention substance. Foles is at his best mad-bombing down the field from the pocket, while Trubisky's athleticism is his strength. Their contracts also tell a diverging story, with Foles having guaranteed money in Chicago until 2022 and Trubisky playing out the final season of his rookie pact after the Bears declined his fifth-year option.
All signs -- especially Trubisky's 2019 game film -- point to Foles winning the job. But Bears coach Matt Nagy won't get to see Foles on the field in his offense for long before Week 1. Splitting reps on this abbreviated timeline is a waste of time, so a quick decision would be best. It's possible Nagy will give Trubisky one final chance as the starter, if only because once he's benched, there may be no going back.
This battle royale looms large, in light of the recent revelation that starter Deebo Samuel could miss the beginning of the season. Kendrick Bourne is not listed above because he's locked in as a quality slot receiver. Aiyuk, a yards-after-the-catch monster in college and rookie first-round pick, will be asked to develop quickly. Kyle Shanahan's system manufactures rushing yards on command (see below), but it's asking a lot to turn this many question marks at wide receiver into a cohesive group. James, a third-year pro, has been placed on the reserve/COVID list.
The 49ers and their playoff hero, Mostert, settled their financial issues, but it's worth keeping in mind when projecting this backfield that Shanahan ultimately paid more to bring Coleman from Atlanta in 2018. Once an even bigger-ticket free-agency purchase, McKinnon is now just trying to keep his career going after losing two seasons to injury and restructuring his once-lucrative deal. Mostert is the only one of the trio under contract beyond 2020.
Swift's skill set would have made him a top-10 pick if he played in a different era; instead, Detroit was able to snag him in the second round of April's draft. Johnson has played like a top-20 back when he's been on the field. He's just struggled to stay there. Don't tell Lions fans, but their offense should be sneaky fun to watch this season.
Rams coach Sean McVay cited the 49ers' model of rotating running backs as one to emulate, which suggests the Rams will go with the hot hand here. Akers, a second-round rookie, has the best chance to maintain momentum; he combines the three-down versatility of Brown with an ability to make defenders miss in a small space. If Henderson can get the game to slow down for him in Year 2, he can make use of his home-run speed.
Everyone is excited to see what Simmons can do as a pro after the Cardinals made him the eighth overall pick in the draft, but it remains uncertain where he'll do it. Inside linebacker is the most logical spot, although the Cardinals fully guaranteed free agent Campbell $6 million this offseason. Let's hope Joseph has a clearer vision for Simmons than the organization once did for another first-round 'tweener linebacker, 2017 selection Haason Reddick.
Ignore for a moment that Hill's role is fairly well-established, and that his generous contract indicates it's only going to increase in 2021, when he turns 31. Gaze instead at the career numbers of these two gentlemen. Winston's career yardage total (19,737) is more than Daryl Lamonica and Chad Pennington. Hill has thrown for fewer yards than receiver Mohamed Sanu, with six career completions compared to Winston's 121 career touchdowns. Even the most ardent Taysom-pologists have to admit Jameis has a chance to complicate Sean Payton's best-laid plans.
Seattle wouldn't have signed Hyde this offseason if Carson and Penny were coming off healthy seasons, but the Seahawks' running back position is often about preparing for three options, because all will eventually come into play. Carson has earned his status as the clear starter entering camp, but I've watched too many Pete Carroll Augusts to assume anything, especially with Carson coming off a hip injury. Penny is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season following his December ACL tear, so Hyde should be a factor regardless.
Recent trade acquisition Jamal Adams will bolster the secondary, but the Seahawks may just have the worst pass rush in the league. Come on down, Jadeveon Clowney!
New offensive coordinator Scott Turner was on the Vikings' staff during the tail end of Peterson's Minnesota prime, so don't assume this job is Guice's to lose. Peterson ran well last season (898 yards, five TDs on 211 carries) and Guice has only been healthy enough to log 42 carries in two years. Gibson, a rookie from Memphis, gives Turner a chance to peacock.
This battle for snaps behind DeSean Jackson already lost one participant when trade acquisition Marquise Goodwin opted out of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jeffery's foot surgery might prevent him from playing early in the season, so the Eagles desperately need their first-round pick this year (Reagor) to step up.
It's unclear whether Randy Gregory will be reinstated by the league, so the Cowboys are counting big on the 30-year-old Smith, who has not played since 2015 and was recently reinstated from his own suspension, to pick up the pass-rushing slack opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. This is a thin position, even if Crawford, who missed significant time last season with a hip injury, can get healthy again. He started camp on the active/PUP list and may be best used at defensive tackle.
Vikings fans want to move Reiff to guard in favor of Cleveland, a second-round pick, following a rough outing in the team's playoff loss, but asking a rookie to step in after a handful of padded practices is a tall order.
I originally wrote this battle up as Lazard against Devin Funchess, who has since opted out of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the Packers wideouts look nearly identical to how they looked last season, with Lazard the favorite to lead the pack after displaying big-play ability in 2019. The conversation surrounding Aaron Rodgers' lack of weapons tends to ignore his incredible running back (Aaron Jones), No. 1 receiver (Davante Adams) and offensive line, but he still needs to develop trust with more options here.
Jordan Love's existential threat to Aaron Rodgers hasn’t received as much attention this offseason because of more globally pressing matters. This is Love's first chance to make a better impression than Rodgers did during an infamously rough first training camp, in which Craig Nall reportedly outplayed him.
Philadelphia's annual entrant in position-battles columns comes with a caveat: With Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman in house, the Eagles' cornerback depth is improved, regardless of who wins out here. Maddox closed last season the strongest.
The Bucs drafted Vaughn in the third round to be Tom Brady's new passing-down back, but he's opening camp on the team's reserve/COVID list. Don't be surprised if the Bucs add a veteran here, whether early in camp or closer to final cuts.
While this position group won't get much attention, stronger secondary play down the stretch as Dean and Murphy-Bunting joined Davis in the starting lineup changed how the Bucs' improving defense looks. If Dean and Murphy-Bunting can back it up, coordinator Todd Bowles has a lot to work with.
The Rams used two tight ends far more often late last season, but their third receiver still figures to be on the field plenty. Jefferson, a second-round pick, fits well in coach Sean McVay's dream of an all-slot offense.
The Saints have arguably the best offensive line in football and are rightfully confident in their ability to draft at the position. That's why they cut Pro Bowler Larry Warford to make room for first-round pick Cesar Ruiz. The catch here is that Ruiz has a chance to start at center, with last season's excellent rookie center, Erik McCoy, moving to guard. This is the type of issue the best roster in football gets to deal with in August while the rest of the league is scrambling.
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