If you’re looking for a comprehensive and informative overview of this summer’s position battles complete with insight on where they stand through minicamps, you’ve come to the right place.
This is just our first look at this year’s top competitions for skill position roles. Once training camp kicks into high gear, we will update this article DAILY.
For now, here’s how the team-by-team battles are looking heading into camp:
New York Giants
The Skinny: Perkins has a strong hold on this job going into camp after the team decided not to sign a veteran to compete and drafted only an unready fourth-round rookie, Wayne Gallman. Darkwa did get some first-team reps in minicamp, but the coaching staff is fully behind Perkins as a featured starter, with RB Shane Vereen spelling him in his familiar third-down receiving role. Perkins’ own pass-catching skills and versatility still make him the easy choice over the unspectacular but steady Darkwa unless something drastically changes in camp, and there is optimism that he can handle a 3-down role.
The Skinny: The team signed former Vikings TE Rhett Ellison to shore up blocking at the position because Tye offered nothing in that area. Tye also lost his key role in the passing game when they used a first-round pick on Engram. So far, the Giants are lining up Engram all over the field to see where the rookie can contribute as an athletic mismatch-creating receiver while he works to refine his in-line blocking to stay on the field consistently. His contributions are bound to be limited in the offense before then, since he’s considered as more of a developmental type. Tye meanwhile needs to start sweating about his roster spot. TE Matt LaCosse, back healthy, is better all-around as a backup and second-year TE Jerrell Adams offers more upside in the mix.
The Skinny: This backfield got some clarity on early downs and red zone situations when RB LeGarrette Blount was signed late in free agency. As recovering RB Ryan Mathews (neck) is headed off the roster, it leaves that above trio fighting for the complementary snaps. Sproles holds down his familiar receiving role behind Blount, still spry at 34. But as a free agent to be, the Eagles are set to take a long look at his young replacement. Pumphrey, the fourth-round rookie, turned in a lot of impressive OTA and minicamp reps to shoot past Smallwood. Pumphrey will initially ease Sproles’ workload on special teams before pushing for more passing-down snaps. Smallwood is in a battle just to catch up with the speedsters, but he is not expected a cut candidate, and he should settle in as Blount’s backup (he handled #2 RB role in mandatory camp). If anything changes with Smallwood, UDFA RB Corey Clement could have a real shot at taking his roster spot.
The Skinny: With RB Matt Jones going from the doghouse to a ticket out of Washington and RB Chris Thompson settling back into his third-down receiving role, Kelley, a UDFA revelation last season, faces stiff new competition for early-down work. The Redskins have designs on a RBBC, but as expected, Perine didn’t waste time impressing as a rookie in OTAs and minicamp with hard, strong running. Although a slimmer, faster and quicker Kelley is doing his best to hold his ground, the first-team reps are bound to lean more toward the more polished and pedigreed Perine. A little more NFL experience might allow Kelley to be the #1 at first, but it will take a big camp to keep Perine from being in the lead for the most carries.
The Skinny: Glennon already thinks he’s the unquestioned starter for Week One and beyond in 2017. Although it’s a lot closer than he thinks, there’s enough built-in distance between him and Trubisky to doubt the first-round rookie rising from #2 in camp. However, while Trubisky will have his hands full learning everything and Glennon has the easier veteran transition in the offense, the Bear offense is relatively easy to learn, so Trubisky will likely play if they are eliminated from the playoffs. But Glennon will open the season as the starter for sure, and he helps the Bears’ wideouts in the downfield passing game.
The Skinny: Chicago can’t totally count on Miller as the #1 here as he’s 32 and iffy for the start of camp, coming off a major foot injury. If healthy, he would return as the top receiver as Sims, the former Dolphin, and Shaheen, the second-round rookie, work to settle into the offense. If Miller needs more time or has a setback, it opens the door for Shaheen a little more in the passing game. Although Sims has had his moments as a receiver in Miami, he was signed more for his blocking. Shaheen has looked good early in the offseason, but as a small-school prospect, he can’t be expected to rise as a receiver right away as he faces other initial obstacles at the position. Miller’s job seems intact, body willing.
The Skinny: With Alshon Jeffery gone, WR Cameron Meredith becomes the clear-cut #1. Former Titans WR Kendall Wright is on track to get slot duties, well over former Giants WR Victor Cruz. The leaves White competing with the two other veteran newcomers for the main outside duties opposite Meredith. White’s high status is tied to his first-round drafting in 2015 and potential speed instead of what he’s been able to do in the NFL so far, which isn’t much because of his leg injury woes. Wheaton and Randle have some #2 experience from their previous stops. Wheaton is dealing with his own return from a shoulder injury, while Randle couldn’t even stick with the Eagles last season. Behind all of that are JAG holdovers Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy. Health willing, White’s upside should help him hold on to #2 with Wheaton (who can play inside if needed) in waiting, almost by default.
The Skinny: Abdullah (foot) has zipped back into the lead for primary back duties after it’s clear his OTA and minicamp work showed he was back up and running at full speed. Riddick (wrist) still is recovering from his injury and is headed toward being re-relegated to his third-down receiving role. With RB Matt Asiata in the mix battling RBs Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington for very limited power back duties, Abdullah needs to only come out of camp healthy to nail down more a true Lion’s share of the touches.
The Skinny: WR Marvin Jones got overwhelmed as a new #1 on a new team last season, while WR Golden Tate produced more like one again despite much less work from his comfort zone in the slot. The Lions are trying to be more effective in three-wide sets with a big-bodied route-runner who can line up outside opposite Jones. That would take needed pressure off Jones and let Tate go back to being more efficient inside. Although Abbrederis, the former Packer, impressed enough all-around in OTAs and minicamp to likely make the roster in camp, he’s strictly a slot receiver. Golladay, the rookie third-rounder, stood out even more with his ability to get open, get deep and go up to get the ball. Golladay should win #3 and carve out an initial role as a red zone threat before pushing to take more downfield targets away from Jones when the Lions spread the field.
Green Bay Packers
The Skinny: With the TE Jared Cook experiment over, Bennett is a much more appealing newcomer as an effective athletic mismatch in the red zone. He’s so far picked up where he left off with Patriots QB Tom Brady in trying to become the same kind of intermediate receiving threat for QB Aaron Rodgers. Kendricks, a fellow free-agent signee, was added more to round out the blocking and short pass-catching duties. Although they will be out there often in two-tight sets, Bennett is the clear busy primary TE here with TE Richard Rodgers now as the distant #3 on the roster bubble.
The Skinny: Montgomery is getting every chance to complete his transition from wide receiver to feature back. Part of that plan has him bulking up and boning up on pass protection. That said, he’s far from locking down a consistent heavy-touch role in the offense, as the rookies Williams and Jones can push this more into a RBBC. Williams has the lead for more work on early downs in Montgomery’s stead with his pure power running. We liked Jones’ college tape more than Williams’ but he’ll likely at first offer some quickness and explosiveness to spell Montgomery on third downs. The Packers don’t want to wear down Montgomery full time in his new job, and don’t need to. This is leaning toward a 60-40 split with Montgomery vs. the two rookies, with some of FB Aaron Ripkowski, too. The third drafted rookie, RB Devante Mays, will be just trying to win a roster spot in camp.
The Skinny: Cook looked the part of a second-round rookie with great upside when he wowed the team’s coaching staff, most notably HC Mike Zimmer, during minicamp. With Murray (ankle surgery) on the mend, Cook got most of the first-team reps with RB Jerick McKinnon next in line. McKinnon is best suited as a change of pace and receiving #3. Murray was an early-down back with the Raiders last season, and when he returns sometime in camp, he faces an uphill battle to tilt projected touches away from Cook. One element that will help Murray, though, is his excellent pass-protection skills, which should put him in the mix for a role on passing downs. Ultimately, while the Vikings have the bodies to make this seem like a RBBC, Cook will likely be too impressive to keep from busy feature-like duties over three downs, right from Week One.
The Skinny: Thielen was rewarded big-time for his breakout season with a new contract and should easily open the season continuing to see heavy starter’s targets outside opposite WR Stefon Diggs. But he totally can’t rest with Treadwell treading his way up to the clear third on the depth chart in minicamp in Year 2, ahead of JAG holdover WR Jarius Wright and continued off-field flameout WR Michael Floyd. Treadwell, fully healthy, can maintain the trajectory that matches his first-round talent with a big camp. That means Diggs needs to stay healthy and Thielen needs to build on a strong all-around 2016 to keep Treadwell from making a significantly greater impact in the Vikings’ passing game.
The Skinny: The Stanford products are both favorites of the Falcons’ coaching staff, for different reasons. Although Toilolo was a priority affordable re-signing, the team valued his big-bodied blocking a lot more than his pass-catching skills. Hooper, back fully healthy, is easily emerging as the preferred receiver at the position during his second offseason, on top of being a very strong blocker in his own right. Hooper’s athleticism and ability to stretch the field won’t just allow him to be the clear-cut starter here; he is line to be the team’s second-most productive target after WR Julio Jones.
The Skinny: For now, it looks like a clear definition of roles with Stewart, signed to a pre-draft extension at 30, keeping the early-down and red zone work while McCaffrey gets on the field more in passing and change-of-pace situations. But McCaffrey will be extended as a rusher, receiver and returner and be plenty busy in a unique rookie role. He’s also underrated as a power runner and has his own scoring flair. Stewart will hold off McCaffrey to get the first crack at more carries, but the total touches are likely to lean toward the first-round rookie in time. That’s assuming McCaffrey stays sharp and makes up for offseason lost time with the dazzling camp everyone expects him to have. Behind them, RB Fozzy Whitaker should remain as a swing backup over RB Cameron Artis-Payne, a likely cut.
The Skinny: WR Kelvin Benjamin will get every chance to make up for a disappointing post-knee injury season as the #1, but Funchess is more likely to get further lost in the team’s receiving pecking order behind Benjamin, TE Greg Olsen, and RB Christian McCaffrey. That’s because Samuel’s quickness and open-field burst will be featured often in the slot, and when the Panthers spread the field, new WR Russell Shepard will be called upon for the occasional deep shot. That doesn’t leave Funchess to do much as a potential starter in name only, especially as the Panthers stay creative with frequent two-back and two-tight sets. Funchess may at first be listed on top of Samuel on the depth chart, but it will take a terrific camp for him to be truly ahead of Samuel — who can also line up outside when needed —where and when it counts.
New Orleans Saints
The Skinny: Peterson has drawn early raves from his new teammates and coaches with his hard running at 32, but that doesn’t mean he will handle the ball like a feature back again in New Orleans. Given #3 RB Alvin Kamara is a rookie, the key to who has greater value between the veterans comes down to work in the passing game. Although Peterson is working with QB Drew Brees to try to amp up as a receiver, Ingram already has proved he’s more natural in that key capacity in the Saints’ offense. It’s trending toward Peterson and Ingram having a close division of the early-down work, with Peterson being used more in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Ingram remains the better bet to stay more on the field in passing situations. It looks like another frustrating Saints RBBC with a rough overall 55-45 split in favor of Ingram.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Skinny: The Buccaneers, after not releasing Martin, have stuck to the offseason-long script that they have full confidence in him as a productive lead back again. Martin nearly played himself off the team with personal and conditioning issues, but those seem to be resolved to the point of him getting his lead job back when he returns from suspension in Week Four. He looked great in the off-season program. While he’s gone, the situation behind him should be settled, as Rodgers, a HC Dirk Koetter favorite, once again heads the replacement RBBC. Rodgers is the most experienced and complete of the other backs to remain the all-around #2 when Martin returns. Sims will compete with the rookie McNichols to get on the field in a limited third-down receiving role. If Sims wins the job, he would put McNichols on the roster bubble, and vice versa. Barber, who made a start as a rookie UDFA, can prove to be worth keeping over either as more of a swing #4.
The Skinny: Howard, the rookie first-round pick, is billed as the league’s next great complete tight end, possessing natural dominant blocking ability on top of the receiving skills that make him a size-speed matchup nightmare. But despite those skills and upside, he may not make an impact until he settles into the offense in every versatile capacity. The Bucs can afford to be patient with Howard learning the ropes in camp because Brate is a great returning fallback who already is a trusted target of QB Jameis Winston. Howard will be the guy soon enough, as they really need an intermediate passing option, but no one should be surprised if Brate starts ahead of him coming out of camp.
The Skinny: Ageless WR Larry Fitzgerald is the clear #1, but the competition for the most targets behind him will rev up in camp. Brown, despite coming off a injury-riddled season and getting hamstrung again at OTAs, is in the lead to get the most snaps outside. “Smoke” has done so looking more like his old explosive self and ramping up his downfield connection with QB Carson Palmer. Nelson filled in well with flashes when WR Michael Floyd was gone and Brown was hurt last season, but he’s best suited to Brown’s old role as a speedy #3. Behind them WR Jaron Brown (torn ACL) is recovering from major knee injury and third-round rookie WR Chad Williams is bound to mostly redshirt as the projected heir apparent to Fitzgerald.
The Skinny: Now that the Cardinals have rediscovered their health and depth at wideout, Ellington can go back to his natural position of a change-of-pace back. Enter Logan, a fifth-round rookie with similar size and open-field quickness to a young Ellington. Ellington is built to improve as a slightly tougher runner, and his experience in the offense — including as a former starter — means he’ll easily hold off Logan to be RB David Johnson’s top backup and preferred “handcuff.”
Los Angeles Rams
The Skinny: New Rams HC Sean McVay leaves the Redskins WR trio of DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder to figure out how his lesser new top three wideouts will play those roles to try to help second-year QB Jared Goff. Once Austin returns from his wrist injury in camp, McVay will work hard to reinvent him as a speedy deep threat in the DeSean Jackson mold while also getting him the ball shorter in open field. A lot will be put on Austin, and that lines him up for boom or bust from week to week. Woods can be more the possession-like #1 in the Garcon mold, seeing the most targets from Goff while showing the steadiest hands and production. Kupp will take the #3 slot role of Crowder, and that will keep him busy as a rookie with a chance to lead the group in TDs as the biggest of the three targets for the red zone. Goff lowers the upside of them all, but Woods has the highest floor.
The Skinny: As soon as the Rams drafted Everett in the second round for new HC Sean McVay, there came the comparisons to his Redskins go-to guy, TE Jordan Reed. Everett comes in with the same athleticism and has started push Higbee, a second-year receiver with upside in his own right. As the Rams are dealing with a major role change, free-agent newcomer and rookie at wideout, there are designs of McVay having Everett and Higbee out there together often in two-tight sets to provide double security blankets for QB Jared Goff. Everett is the better talent, but Higbee has the year’s experience at a position where it’s critical and he’s a better overall NFL prospect due to his size. A steady TEBC can only do so much with Goff, but this is set up to be more even albeit lesser combined production than Reed and TE Vernon Davis in Washington.
San Francisco 49ers
The Skinny: At first, the hiring of HC Kyle Shanahan didn’t look great for Hyde, as the oft-injured feature back seemed like a total misfit in the outside zone scheme and doesn’t have the ideal versatility Shanahan wants. But he revved it up in minicamps and OTAs with plenty of first-team work, perhaps with the pressure to prove otherwise with his job on the line in the final year of his rookie contract. That said, it also may be about the 49ers needing more time to trust the rookie fourth-rounder Williams with a key role in a system for which Shanahan specifically picked him. Williams has a lot of talent and can still push this toward at least a RBBC with a good first camp. Hightower, at 31, is more of a pure veteran backup if Hyde slides before Williams would be ready to play extensively. UDFA Matt Breida has generated some buzz, too, but it would be a big coup just to make the team in camp.
The Skinny: The 49ers signed WR Pierre Garcon to be a very busy #1 for new starting QB Brian Hoyer, leaving the rest of the targets to mostly trickle down to this trio. Kerley was re-signed as the returning top wideout. Although he did much of his 2016 work in the slot, he may be needed to line up outside in HC Kyle Shanahan’s slot-unfriendly offense. Ellington, who was supposed to have that slot job last season, got hamstrung and now is banged up again, putting him on the roster bubble. The former Bill Goodwin projects more in the WR Taylor Gabriel speedy mismatch/field stretcher role. This pretty much has to be Kerley next in line, even though with Garcon, the 49ers will have the two of the league’s shortest perimeter receivers.
The Skinny: Celek can feel the most secure about his role in the new offense as the seasoned top returning blocking tight end who can contribute in the passing game when needed. The only reason McDonald has a chance to stick around to try to prove he’s not a bust of a receiver is the fact the 49ers have invested too much in him, making him a costly cut. Otherwise, the new coaches weren’t hot on his skill set or his lack of durability from the get-go. The rookie fourth-rounder Kittle, who had an impressive minicamp catching passes with the offensive starters, is starting to make McDonald very expendable with any signs of a shaky veteran camp. Kittle can easily be the top receiving threat here right away, with Celek and fellow blocking TE Logan Paulsen helping to push McDonald off the roster.
The Skinny: Lockett can be assumed to be locked in as the busiest wideout target after #1 WR Doug Baldwin whenever he’s fully healed from his leg injuries sometime in camp. But before that happens, Richardson has a chance to push for a bigger role after filling in well for Lockett down the stretch and in the playoffs. Lockett doesn’t need worry about when the Seahawks go three wide, but Kearse, coming off a bad 2016, can be expected to lose more playing time to Richardson and may not even make the team. A healthy Lockett will remain third in the overall pecking order behind Baldwin and TE Jimmy Graham, but Richardson’s flash can’t be ignored as the #3 here.
The Skinny: There’s no question that RB C.J. Prosise, despite a banged-up rookie season, will be relied upon heavily as a receiving back beyond third downs. So between Lacy and Rawls, it is a clear-cut competition for the pure rushing role. Lacy has committed better to his conditioning and looked good early, but that’s also motivated Rawls to coming out running strong after a potential breakout season marred by an ankle injury. Put Lacy in the lead for more carries going into camp, but he can’t afford to have setbacks with his shape or health with Rawls on his heels. A good camp from both Lacy and Rawls would push this into full-blown RBBC with potential equal touches for all three backs, with only further injury to one of them changing that. As for Prosise, he’s bulked up this off-season and will likely see time as changeup option in addition to snaps on passing downs.
The Skinny: Williams, after a blip of a season as a fifth-round rookie, is healthy now and getting every opportunity to replace RB Mike Gillislee as RB LeSean McCoy’s top backup. McCoy is turning 29 with recent hamstring woes, and Williams already saw plenty of first-team work when McCoy was sick in minicamp. The Bills’ new coaching staff loves Williams, looking at him more as the early-down heir apparent, a feeling that won’t change in camp. Tolbert may end up looking like the #2 on the depth chart, but that’s only because he would be first up to spell McCoy on passing downs. Williams projects much better in the Gillislee heavy backup role.
The Skinny: The Bills can start to worry less about #1 WR Sammy Watkins as he’s on track to get back to full speed from his foot injury woes soon into camp. Jones, the rookie second-rounder, had been sidelined with a knee injury early, but went full in OTAs and minicamp. Despite his inexperience, the lacking veteran talent behind him make the nice-sized Jones the favorite for the possession #2 to replace WR Robert Woods. The former Raider Holmes has the best chance to push Jones, given he’s looked much better than expected in getting some strong first-team reps. The job still leans toward Jones, who played for their new WRs coach at ECU, but Holmes is making the most of a fresh start to make it interesting in camp.
The Skinny: Drake is no longer looked at as a change-of-pace scatback by HC Adam Gase — and can’t afford to be. With RB Jay Ajayi emerging as one of the league’s strong younger feature backs, the Dolphins need a reliable straight-up backup, given Ajayi’s injury history. Drake showed flashes of strong rushing as a third-round rookie and should be ready to do a lot more, and will keep getting chances in camp to do them. Williams was re-signed cheaply and has been a good reserve, but he is one better suited for the situational pass-catching and pass-blocking role. It would be a surprise if Drake doesn’t nail down true #2.
New England Patriots
The Skinny: There’s more clarity in the Patriots’ RBBC than usual. Gillislee already has a pretty good hold on lead duties as an upgrade over RB LeGarrette Blount in the power rushing attack. White has built on his Super Bowl heroics, improving in every way to all but lock down the primary third-down back duties over the oft-injured and unreliable Lewis. With Gillislee and White well defined, it will be hard to upend that order in camp, but Lewis can take some of the passing down receiving work from White. Burkhead, with his versatility, can fight for more touches, but he’s more valuable as a swing backup who can also help on special teams. Burkhead can push RB Brandon Bolden off the roster, while Lewis may hang on to a spot because of return skills and occasional burst. Ultimately, all roles dependent on injuries, down, distance, and matchups. That’s the way they look at RBs, while most teams look at it differently.
New York Jets
The Skinny: Forte may have been saved in the Jets’ major roster shakeup, but that won’t keep the 31-year-old from seeing a diminished role in their RBBC under new OC John Morton. Powell, 28, with much less mileage, looked much stronger and faster as the clear more effective all-around back last season. The expectation is that Powell will get the first crack at feature-like touches, staying on the field for all three downs before Forte is rotated in. The team is playing it like a split, but it’s hard to think it won’t start sticking more with Powell right away.
The Skinny: McCown was presumed to be replacing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as the veteran stopgap because of his experience in that role and the fact that Hackenberg isn’t a very good young passer. But somehow, McCown has performed poorly enough early in the offseason, timed with Hackenberg not looking totally awful, to make this a bigger question mark as to who will come out of camp as the #1. It still leans toward McCown job’s to lose, as it will take Hackenberg playing much better to take it away. Petty, slowed more by shoulder surgery, has faded hard as a #3.
The Skinny: With WRs Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker gone, these complementary wideouts are the best of the Jets’ mess that’s left. Despite a recent neck injury that kept him out of minicamp, Enunwa has the lead to be the new top wideout and target monster. He has proved to be a versatile producer when either Marshall or Decker was hurting. Anderson had a pretty good rookie season, but this offseason has been marred his arrest on felony charges in Miami. Given rookie third-round WR ArDarius Stewart is next in line, however, Anderson’s on-field role is safe as a new #2. Enunwa will get more looks, but Anderson will be plenty busy, too.
The Skinny: The Jets want much more out of their tight ends in the passing game under new OC John Morton, and need it, too, with limited options at wide receiver. Seferian-Jenkins so far has impressed with his extended second chance in both OTAs and minicamp. ASJ will need to keep working hard to keep it up in camp before his two-games suspension to open the season. Leggett, a rookie fifth-rounder, has been a bit overwhelmed with learning an NFL offense early, typical for his position. Other than needing to fill in early in the season, it’s hard to see Leggett doing much as a receiver as long as ASJ holds up. Seferian-Jenkins can be a sneaky productive #1 in this situation.
The Skinny: Maclin’s late free-agent signing was needed for the Ravens. Although Wallace will hold down the top speedy outside job opposite WR Breshad Perriman, Maclin will step into the busy primary slot role that’s led to #1-like production for WRs Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. of late for Baltimore. Maclin also will be a key red zone target from that position to help replace TE Dennis Pitta. There’s every expectation Maclin will develop quick chemistry with QB Joe Flacco and be in line to earn the most overall looks with more of a possession role coming out of camp.
The Skinny: The Ravens signed a clear receiving back in former Chargers RB Danny Woodhead, who will be the busy #3 on third downs and in the red zone. So this is about whether Dixon or West will break free to become the primary power back in the holdover RBBC. Dixon was on track to be that guy, before he got hit with a PED suspension that will cost him the first four games. West got re-signed and is in position to take advantage of Dixon’s initial absence with a great offseason so far. If West can build up the momentum in camp and follow that up with strong starting production, he could stave Dixon off when Dixon returns. However, the team thinks Dixon is more explosive, so Dixon is probably still the safer bet.
The Skinny: With no more TE Dennis Pitta, Watson is the most seasoned player here by far as a blocker and receiver, but he’s also 36 and coming off a season wiped out by a torn Achilles’. Gillmore is recovering from a major back injury. Williams is recovering from knee surgery and the team is unsure when he’ll get back on the field in camp. Boyle has suddenly become the most trusted young body here, but that isn’t saying much with his lack of any flashy production so far. The combined injury and inexperience issues keep the entire depth chart up for grabs, and the starter could end up being a FA added sometime in camp. For now, consider Watson a shaky default starter.
The Skinny: The rookie second-rounder Mixon stepped into a golden opportunity. He’s looked very good early in his first offseason, and the team expects him to keep up the impressive all-around work in camp. Mixon’s potential volume is dependent on how hard Hill works to keep an early-down power role and how long it will take Bernard (torn ACL) to be healthy enough to play again. Hill is doing his part and he’ll likely report to camp slimmer and trimmer. At worst, Mixon has good- enough receiving skills to replace Bernard on third downs early. At best, Mixon will also cut well into Hill’s rushing load to turn this from RBBC toward him being featured. The Bengals are well aware of Mixon’s upside in this situation, he’ll get every chance to break free as a clear #1.
The Skinny: The Bengals are still looking for more pop behind #1 WR A.J. Green. Ross, the rookie first-rounder, has fallen well behind after needing to miss the offseason program, and he may not be fully recovered from shoulder surgery when camp opens. LaFell got re-signed for two years, but he’s 30 and is coming off an unspectacular first season in Cincinnati. Boyd flashed as a rookie, but now he has to prove his worth a lot more after the early selection of Ross. Until Ross is healthy, the limited situation behind Green doesn’t change much from ’16 with LaFell lining up most outside opposite him again.
The Skinny: Njoku, the rookie first-rounder, has wasted little time proving to the team that he deserves an immediate big receiving role. He still needs time to develop, but he is ahead of the curve for his position and is easily looking at wideout-like #1 status as the top safety valve for whoever’s playing quarterback. Devalve returns with some athletic pass-catching upside, but he’ll need HC Hue Jackson to go more two-tight to truly cut into Njoku’s heavy targets.
The Skinny: Kessler has the lead for #1 after getting most of the first-team reps in minicamp. Osweiler surprised many with a strong showing in OTAs. Kizer has played above his raw rookie second-round status to close the gap a little on both veterans. This is both very tight and wide open, but the Browns’ offensive coaches seem reluctant to rush Kizer into action before he’s totally ready. Consider Kessler as the slight favorite to keep the job, with Kizer as the long shot and Osweiler likely to fade in contrast at some point. Kessler still doesn’t stand out with his size, strength, arm or athleticism, but he can win by being trusted to be the most efficient.
The Skinny: The team has plenty of depth and decisions to make behind #1 WR Antonio Brown. Bryant, returning from his latest suspension, is making things easier, impressing everyone — mostly QB Ben Roethlisberger — to return as a more dangerous #2 threat outside. Rogers, a coaching staff favorite in ’16, has done plenty to stay ahead of the rookie second-rounder Juju Smith-Schuster for the slot duties, but can’t let up in camp if he wants to keep Smith-Schuster as the #4. Coates flashed but mostly crashed trying to replace Bryant last season, and now finds himself down with WRs Justin Hunter and Cobi Hamilton in just trying to make the team. There may not be room for any of them if veteran speedster WR Darrius Heyward-Bey sticks due to his special teams play.
The Skinny: Conner, the rookie third-rounder, is the favorite to replace RB DeAngelo Williams as the top backup to oft banged-up featured #1 RB Le’Veon Bell. Toussaint has experience as a reserve in the offense, but Conner is the stronger overall runner. Davis fell hard as the Chiefs’ #2, and then again as a short-term Packer, so he likely will be more worried about just making the team over re-signed RB Terrell Watson.
The Skinny: The Steelers could afford to give up on TE Ladarius Green and didn’t draft a tight end because they already had two good in-house options. James has built on the impressive games he delivered while Green was on the shelf for the playoffs this offseason. He’s earned more praise from the coaching staff and improved upon his chemistry with QB Ben Roethlisberger. Grimble has a pretty good and similar receiving skill set, so he can’t be ruled out to push James, but the latter is the strong favorite to open as the #1 in Week One.
The Skinny: HC Bill O’Brien has been adamant that Savage will be the #1 come Week One, despite the fact the team traded up to take Watson in the first round. Savage has been treated that way in dominating the first-team snaps through minicamp. The doors, however, are still slightly ajar for Watson early and he can blast them open by turning in a strong camp of accelerated development. Savage also can hand the job to him by having more injury issues in the preseason. For now, Savage looks hard to unseat as the initial starter, with Watson looking more like a potential midseason replacement.
The Skinny: The Colts again will often feature three-wide sets with QB Andrew Luck, clearly led by #1 WR T.Y. Hilton and #2 WR Donte Moncrief. Dorsett is quickly losing his first-round pedigree and ground behind them, as the former Raven Aiken looks the part of the more ideal, versatile and reliable #3. Dorsett is hurt by his one-trick speed status plus a hamstring injury that kept him out of minicamp. He should now be more worried about just keeping his #4 status over rising second-year UDFA Chester Rogers.
The Skinny: While ageless RB Frank Gore looks secure as a featured #1, at 34, the Colts need to be ready to get more out of his top backup. Turbin didn’t play much in 2016, but his nose for the end zone followed by a stronger ’17 offseason has him in line for a busier role to spell Gore. With the threat of fellow former Seahawks RB Christine Michael (IR) gone, Turbin should be the clear veteran #2 over intriguing fourth-round rookie Marlon Mack. Mack can be a productive NFL back in time; it just may be when Gore is unlikely to return as a free agent in ’18.
The Skinny: Fournette, the first-round rookie, is getting every chance to become a three-down feature back right away as expected. He’s showed the expected explosiveness as a pure early-down power runner, but he’s also been surprisingly smooth in his transition to being a much busier pass-catcher. He’s on track to be the dominant #1 come Week One. Although there have been some rumors that Yeldon may be the odd man out behind Fournette instead of Ivory, that may not make the most sense. Ivory is 29 and coming off a mostly hamstrung first season in Jacksonville and offers little in the passing game. Yeldon, a struggling young back, at least can be useful to supplement Fournette’s receiving. Ivory vs. Yeldon will come down to the Jaguars’ deciding whether they prefer veteran early-down insurance or a fresher third-down alternative.
The Skinny: WR Allen Robinson can relax as the easy #1, but Hurns can’t ease up after a hamstrung and overall disappointing 2016. Westbrook, the rookie fourth-rounder, is less of a threat as an injury limited his initial work in OTAs and minicamp. Lee is a much more serious threat to Hurns, given he finished ahead of Hurns as the #2 at the end of the last season. Now that Lee is fully healthy himself, he offers more lineup and route-running versatility as the more talented all-around receiver than Hurns. It should be a competition between the two young veterans, but Hurns should be the favorite to start unless proven otherwise.
The Skinny: The former Raider Rivera was signed to give the team an option at the position after trading TE Julius Thomas to Miami. Rivera has shown limited wiggle and production, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting first-team reps as a pass-catcher in a more wide receiver-centric offense. The veteran blocking ace Lewis once had a big receiving season, but he’s 33 and has been well settled into his current role for a while to suddenly expect him to produce in an expanded one again. Rivera is the top receiving option by default, likely to lead a TEBC with Lewis and either Ben Koyack or Neil Sterling.
The Skinny: The first-round rookie Davis has some tough competition to lead the team in wideout targets for QB Marcus Mariota. Matthews led the team with 945 yards and 9 TDs last season, but he’s more suited to be a complementary receiver than a top one. Decker, a late free-agent addition, can cut into Matthews’ red zone looks and do some good, busy work as a slot upgrade over WR Kendall Wright. That leaves Davis to fly all over the field like a #1, and assuming his ankle injury is no longer an issue after a strong minicamp, he’ll be in line to make an immediate impact and dominate targets in what will become more of a higher volume passing offense.
The Skinny: Although HC Vance Joseph has declared this to be a RBBC, Anderson is in the lead for most carries. While Charles is trying to recover from his knee injury to be ready for his first camp with his new team, Booker is trying to overcome a shaky rookie season in which he got overwhelmed. Anderson is back healthy to think he’ll handle the majority of the early-down work, with Charles cutting a little into that and staying ahead of Booker on passing downs. The coaching staff also believes rookie sixth-rounder De’Angelo Henderson can make the team and get some key touches. It should remain an Anderson-first backfield, but this could be a tenuous, fluid and frustrating situation to watch closely in camp.
The Skinny: Siemian has done his best to hold his ground as the #1 with good early offseason work in both OTAs and minicamp. But according to the coaches, that hasn’t meant much in separating from Lynch, and the two QBs are more in a dead heat with training camp and preseason being the true deciding factors. Behind the scenes, Lynch is much improved from his time as a rookie and gaining more confidence from both the staff and teammates with his work ethic. Siemian remains a strong backup plan if Lynch doesn’t rev up in camp, but there’s a good chance the latter emerges the #1 come Week One.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Skinny: Ware had the early lead to keep his busy early-down role, but Hunt, the promising third-round rookie, has seen his workload gradually increase through minicamp. Hunt is getting an extensive look in every capacity, and will continue his push to earn every-down feature back duties in training camp. Ware will be hard to topple because he’s a good well-rounded back in his own right, but he’ll still need a stellar camp to remain first in line for touches. West isn’t really in the mix to start but is an above-average swing #3 who can spell either Ware or Hunt in any situation. That gives him more final roster appeal than flyer RB C.J. Spiller.
The Skinny: WR Tyreek Hill is the new #1 from the outside “Z” position with WR Jeremy Maclin being cut. That leaves the Chiefs looking for a possession type to start at the “X”, and a slot option to fill where Maclin ended up mostly playing at the “Y.” Conley, with his speed and quickness, is more like Hill and not yet a steady pass-catcher, but the Chiefs may adapt to his skill set and make him more interchangeable with Hill. The problem is, Conley hasn’t shown close to the same big-play upside as Hill, opening the door for Wilson and Robinson to push for more work outside. Conley might have to man the “X” by default, with Wilson more suited to being an underwhelming “Y” and Robinson needing to do much more in camp to prove he deserves a consistent offensive role.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Skinny: QB Philip Rivers has a variety of options, but the Chargers need to define a pecking order. The rookie first-rounder Mike Williams has fallen back in his chance to make an immediate impact with a back injury that may also keep him out for the start of his first NFL training camp. Allen, meanwhile, has looked healthy again and remains on track to return as the clear #1 here. While Mike Williams has to heal, it’s the best news for Tyrell Williams, the best of the other options for “Z” duties behind Allen’s “X”. Benjamin may see his role slide to more return duties and a #4 wideout because Inman is more versatile, capable of both playing the slot as the “Y” and outside. Health and the heat of camp can change this, but it’s looking like Allen, Tyrell Williams, Inman and Benjamin initially before Mike Williams is ready to play and contribute. It’s looking like a while before the rookie can push for #2.
The Skinny: Henry is headed toward out-snapping Gates during his second season. Gates still can be productive at age 37, as his solid 2016 showed. But as the team has gotten deeper at wideout and Henry is ready for more regular work in Year 2, Gates has told them he’s fine being used more situationally on key passing downs, especially the red zone. That sets up Henry to build significantly on his 36 catches for 478 yards. He also managed 8 TDs when Gates had 7 in a regular role. The Chargers’ changing of the guard finally happens with Henry as the “starter.”
The Skinny: The Raiders were extremely high on Walford at this time last offseason. They’ve done a 180 on his potential after an awful all-around 2016, thrown off by an off-field knee injury. Enter Cook after a one-year flash with the Packers. He is in a similar offense to Green Bay’s and his signing price suggests the Raiders will give him every chance to earn it as a receiving upgrade at the position. Cook is a good complement to their wideouts and will work to be a trusted target of QB Derek Carr coming out of camp. There’s not much of a battle, and Walford could be cut or traded.
The Skinny: RB Marshawn Lynch was signed to be the early-down #1, but it’s important for the Raiders to figure out all the complements and contingencies for the 31-year-old coming out of retirement. Of that trio, only the seventh-round rookie Hood, very impressive in the offseason so far, fits as being capable of backing up Lynch in the power role. Hood is expected to easily make the team. Richard and Washington are both speedy second-year backs, but it’s clear the UDFA Richard was the more explosive and effective one as a rookie as they got similar 25-percent workloads. Richard has the edge to be the top third-down receiving change of pace coming out of camp, with Washington having a chance to be interchangeable with Richard, but he’s also possibly fighting for a roster spot.