2014 Position Battles

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Updated, 9/1/14


If you’re looking for a comprehensive and informative review of this summer’s position battles complete with insight on where they stand after the preseason, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s an in-depth look at the winners, losers and those somewhere in between heading into Week One of the regular season:


NFC East


Dallas Cowboys 


The Battle: Lance Dunbar vs. Joseph Randle vs. Ryan Williams for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: Dunbar is again tabbed to be the change-of-pace runner and receiver to complement DeMarco Murray. He’s a favorite in the pass-happier scheme of play-caller Scott Linehan, good enough to get more than third-down touches. Coming off left knee ACL surgery, the key for him is staying healthy through increased preseason reps. It was beneficial for the Cowboys to take a long look at all three backs’ value in training camp, given Murray is unsigned beyond 2014. As expected, Dunbar has impressed most in camp. Randle had been seeing almost all the time and stood out as the third back. Randle didn’t change the thinking with a solid preseason-opening start when Murray and Dunbar didn’t play. Williams, though talented, didn’t step up enough and was cut; he was retained for the practice squad. Randle, shaking off a late preseason oblique injury, would be set to serve as the early-down guy if Murray goes down. Dunbar will still see a good share of the workload when Murray’s healthy. Updated: 9/1


The Battle: Brandon Weeden vs. Caleb Hanie for team’s backup QB job (#2)


The Skinny: This job belongs to Weeden after the Cowboys released Kyle Orton before camp. The Cowboys are stuck with Weeden, 30, fresh off his two and only shaky seasons in Cleveland, being thrust into one of the league’s (and fantasy’s) most important #2 jobs behind back-troubled Tony Romo. Weeden “earns” the first-go behind Romo by default over new #3 Hanie. At least Weeden’s performance with the first team while Romo sat out the preseason opener was mildly encouraging. Hanie was released in the team’s early camp cuts. Updated: 8/26


New York Giants


The Battle: Rueben Randle vs. Odell Beckham Jr. for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Through OTAs and minicamp, the Giants had been using three wide receivers as their base package, with Randle and Beckham lining up outside as the “X and “Z” and Victor Cruz working out of the slot. In Ben McAdoo’s Packers-styled passing game, there’s room for all three to be productive. Although the speedy Beckham has been impressive running routes, Randle has three inches of height and two years of experience on him. While Eli Manning still will trust Cruz as his go-to guy, Randle’s size and hands should be favored next, especially in the red zone. Beckham is trying to catch up fast as a first-rounder, but look for the greater scoring potential to give Randle the opportunity to see the more snaps early. It doesn’t help Beckham that a troublesome hamstring kept him out of action throughout the preseason. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Rashad Jennings vs. Andre Williams vs. Peyton Hillis for team’s starting and backup RB jobs (#1 and #2)


The Skinny: Jennings came over from Oakland for this opportunity, and he is set to start the season as a heavy-load #1. Despite his age (29), he’s offered two must-haves for Tom Coughlin already: protecting Eli Manning and securing the ball. Jennings’ versatility puts him ahead of the rest, timed with the Giants wanting to use their feature back more as a receiver in the new WCO. Although that hurts Williams, who didn’t catch any passes during his Heisman-finalist season at Boston College, the rookie fourth-rounder is in line for the second amount of touches. Jennings and Williams were a good feature/goal-line combination through two preseason games, although unreliable run blocking cooled them both off in the third game. Hillis has pass-catching/protection skills, but little else as a power back to battle Williams. With David Wilson (neck) retired, Hillis is just trying to hold on to #3, but ankle and foot injuries have had him out of the mix for a while. He did return to practice on Aug. 24 and he played in the preseason finale and made the team. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Adrien Robinson vs. vs. Daniel Fells vs. vs. Larry Donnell for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: The Giants wanted to make their tight ends a bigger part of their passing game, but it didn’t work out that way as none of these five guys stood out. It became a wide-open competition because they didn’t completely trust any one of them as every-down blockers. The best athletic receivers, Robinson and the undrafted rookie Grimble, had plenty of trouble finding their way. Grimble was worth watching because of his USC pedigree and early flashes he showed with Eli Manning. We asked Eli about this battle in an interview in mid-June, and Grimble was the only name he mentioned. Unfortunately for Grimble, he was hamstrung in camp and the one-time buzz ended with him being released. Coach Tom Coughlinaccepted after the third preseason game this will be a TEBC until someone can convince the coaches otherwise he can contribute regularly in an all-around role. Based on who got the most first-team reps, Donnell and Fells are the leaders in the rotation; Kellen Davis was cut. You sense the Giants were waiting for Robinson to put it all together, but have accepted that’s not happening yet. Updated: 8/31

Philadelphia Eagles

The Battle:
 Jeremy Maclin vs. Riley Cooper vs. Jordan Matthews for team’s starting WR jobs (#1 and #2)


The Skinny: Maclin needs to show that he’s back to normal in pads and in game situations, and that hasn’t been so easy coming off a major left knee injury (torn ACL). Early in training camp, however, it looked like he was ready reclaim the #1 role that departed DeSean Jackson had last season, plugged into D-Jax’s speedy outside as become Nick Foles’ top deep target. The rave reviews from Chip Kelly have turned to hoping he can stay on the field; Maclin was sidelined for the second preseason game. Foles had great chemistry with Cooper, but in their new hierarchy of receiving talent, Cooper has little shot at #1 and needs to worry more about Matthews taking away #2. The rookie is expected to work the slot as a #3 early, but if he keeps standing out with that big body and good hands in camp, he could be ready to get more “X” looks ahead of Cooper soon. Matthews looked good outside working with the first team while Cooper sat out with a foot injury. However, we do think he’ll wind up playing mostly in the slot, since he doesn’t run well and doesn’t get good separation. Matthews showed in his first preseason game action that his routes and hands still need some work. He showed improvement in the second game, not dropping anything in a nine-catch, 104-yard outing. What looked like a clear pecking order became a bit of muddled mess because of continued concerns with Maclin, but it was back to Maclin, Cooper and Matthews in the third preseason game. Updated: 8/22


The Battle: Zach Ertz vs. Brent Celek for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Celek, the reliable, venerable blocker, has flashed a few big games as a receiver over the years, but Ertz, in Year 2, is ready for bigger things in Chip Kelly’s passing game. With just a little blocking improvement, Ertz will get plenty of chances to use his athleticism to create mismatches in the middle of the field and on vertical routes. He should get more snaps than Celek in both capacities, and he will battle with running back Darren Sproles to be the most productive Eagle pass-catcher. The way the team has been hyping Ertz, he’s already slid up to #1 here. Expect a huge leap as the Eagles are planning to use many two-tight end sets, making Ertz like an extra wide receiver. The catches and red zone opportunities should rack up. There’s every reason to believe in the hype. Three games into the preseason, it’s still building. Updated: 8/27

Washington Redskins 


The Battle: Roy Helu vs. Evan Royster for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The Redskins have been able to trust Alfred Morris with a heavy early-down load, meaning when he’s healthy his top backup will remain relegated to third-down duties under Jay Gruden. Helu has officially held to the role, after the Redskins released Royster, along with second-year man Chris Thompson and rookie Lache Seastrunk, during final camp cuts. Silas Redd survived as the #3. Updated: 8/31


NFC North


Chicago Bears


The Battle: Marquess Wilson vs. Josh Morgan for team’s #3 WR job


The Skinny: This was for the right to be right behind the studly 1-2 punch of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in the Bears’ prolific passing game. This job was all Wilson’s, but the 6-4, 204-pound second-year player broke his collarbone during an Aug. 4 camp practice. Now we’ll have to wait several weeks to see the big, skilled Wilson work the slot and sometimes outside in three-wide receiver sets. It’s a big blow to the Bears, who love his size and how he well he runs routes. While he’s out, tight end Martellus Bennett is back to being the clear-cut third option after Marshall and Jeffery. Morgan is a huge dropoff as a fill-in, and we’re not sure how much new addition Santonio Holmes has left to be considered as the #3. The main question remaining when Wilson returns is whether or not he’s ready to handle making tough catches on third down. That doesn’t appear to be until midseason. For now, Morgan has trust from Marc Trestman as a passable #3, but Holmes is the player with upside. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Ka’Deem Carey vs. Shaun Draughn for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The Bears expended a fourth-round pick on Carey, and with that, they expect his running and receiving skills to make him the ideal backup to Matt Forte in Marc Trestman’s offense. Carey went into camp well ahead of Michael Ford, an undrafted second-year player. That’s not saying much, because the Bears made Ford an early cut in camp. Carey made coaches feel good about his pass protection skills, but has done little otherwise since. He wasn’t special in his preseason debut, and still is now running behind Draughn as the #3. Forte will still be the versatile workhorse with the payoff of red-zone pay dirt. Carey could be a nice insurance policy, but he needs more time. At the moment, it’s worth looking at Draughn as the Forte handcuff to draft late instead. He all but secured the #2 in the third preseason game, and that was the indication from the coaches afterward. Updated: 8/25


The Battle: Jimmy Clausen vs. David Fales for team’s backup QB job (#2)


The Skinny: It’s a far cry from Marc Trestman and the Bears just trusting in Josh McCown to be Jay Cutler’s supersub. Carson’s brother Jordan Palmer struggled plenty in the off-season to the point Clausen, the former Panther who was just signed on June 5, was in position to nail down #2 in camp. He didn’t disappoint the Bears with that opportunity in their preseason games to point the job was easily his over Palmer’s. Palmer was released among first camp cuts. Trestman is confident he can mold Clausen (who he’s worked with in the past) into a serviceable-plus fallback to the oft-banged up Cutler in his West Coast system. There’s enough to like about Fales as a solid backup down the line, but for now, the rookie will hold the clipboard as the developmental #3. Updated: 8/24


Detroit Lions


The Battle: Reggie Bush vs. Joique Bell for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: Bush is ahead of Bell on the depth chart, but this backfield will lean more toward the latter, younger back more under Joe Lombardi. Bush is throwing back to a Saints-like scheme as a receiver, but at 29, he’s even down with seeing less wear carrying the ball. The Lions didn’t give Bell $4.3 million guaranteed to treat him like a #2. Expect Bell to see that uptick in his rushing workload in camp, but the Lions also feel good about keeping him as equally involved as Bush in the passing game. Still, this is an RBBC between the two of them and Bush is still technically the lead back.


The Battle: Eric Ebron vs. Brandon Pettigrew for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Pettigrew remains #1 in the team’s traditional TE role because of his in-line blocking and experience edge. But Ebron, with his dynamic athleticism built for “move” tight end, has been treated early as more like the third wide receiver working between Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. The Lions can’t ignore that Pettigrew’s contributions in the passing game have dwindled. As they go to more sets that spread the field, Ebron is in line to trump Pettigrew in snaps. That should develop as Ebron gets more consistent with his hands and route-running. It will take a little time for his talent to manifest in games. Ultimately, Ebron will be used similarly to how the Saints use Graham – mostly out of the slot. Pettigrew is undraftable because he’ll be primarily blocking. Updated: 8/13


Green Bay Packers


The Battle: Jarrett Boykin vs. Davante Adams for team’s #3 WR job


The Skinny: With James Jones in Oakland, Boykin is trying to hold his ground as the Packers’ #3 behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Boykin is trying to build on how well he produced in that capacity when Cobb was hurt last season and how well liked he is by Mike McCarthy. Adams, a second-rounder with first-round talent, has fought through the typical rookie challenges of the playbook and route-running to push Boykin as that gap keeps closing. Adams was the more impressive receiver in the preseason opener as he split first-team reps with Boykin while Nelson sat. This battle is heating up but Boykin hasn’t run cold enough yet and Adams hasn’t sizzled enough yet to tip it to the rookie. It looks good for Boykin to hold on to #3 for now, with Adams still at #4 after the final week of the preseason. Fellow rookie Jeff Janis has made some waves, too, but he’s not a short-term consideration. Updated: 8/30


The Battle: Andrew Quarless vs. Brandon Bostick vs. Richard Rodgers for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Quarless had been the default #1 because of his in-line blocking and longest history in the Packers’ system, but with how much time he’s missed this off-season, it’s opened the door for others. Bostick, more of athletic receiver than blocker, has taken most advantage in camp with the majority of first-team reps. He’s recovered well from foot surgery late in OTAs to show off his hands and quickness again. The rookie third-rounder Rodgers, who got some starter’s reps early in the off-season that helped speed up his development, can still steal the job away with a standout camp. Although the reps have been split three ways, Rodgers did get the start in the preseason opener. The team would be okay with that despite his unpolished blocking. Rookie UDFA Colt Lyerla is no longer an option after he tore multiple knee ligaments. Adding it all up, it’s become a close upside-heavy race between Bostick and Rodgers. The leg injury Bostick sustained in the second preseason game, which will keep him out for a couple of weeks, tilts it back to Rodgers. That could easily flip again when Bostick returns. For now, the Packers seem set to open the regular season with a Rodgers-Quarless TEBC. Bostick (fibula) is expected to miss Week One. Updated: 9/1


Minnesota Vikings


The Battle: Matt Asiata vs. Jerick McKinnon for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: Asiata, who had two productive outings off the bench when Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart were both banged-up last season, has carried the torch as Peterson’s new #2 since Gerhart signed with Jacksonville. There’s nothing spectacular about Asiata’s game, but his early-down steadiness and goal-line presence behind Peterson have him there. The speedy McKinnon was drafted on the appeal of his third-down potential, and the rookie has still work to do to expand on that role. Asiata has the job down because of experience for now, but McKinnon’s speed and potential he showed in the preseason should get him more consideration to move up earlier than expected. Updated: 8/24


The Battle: Matt Cassel vs. Teddy Bridgewater for team’s starting and backup QB jobs (#1 and #2)


The Skinny: Cassel had the #1 job going into camp, and Bridgewater couldn’t bridge the game, as the team named Cassel the starter for Week One. Although Norv Turner and the Vikings’ staff have praised Bridgewater as they have given him some first-string looks, they didn’t want to press the first-round rookie into action. Cassel built on #1 after his strong preseason-opening series. That was in contrast to Bridgewater having some familiar rookie struggles. Bridgewater followed his first game with bad practices, but his second game produced a poised performance highlighted by a fourth-quarter comeback. Cassel started in the third preseason game, playing with the first team into the second half, and coach Mike Zimmer made it official the Monday after that he’ll be the guy at least in the short term. In this offense, Cassel can hold down the job for a while, but just stringing together a few bad games in losses will swing the door wide open for Bridgewater. Christian Ponder is still around as the #3. Updated: 9/1


NFC South


Atlanta Falcons


The Battle: Devonta Freeman vs. Jacquizz Rodgers for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The Falcons want Freeman to become the immediate top backup to Steven Jackson, and all it required from the rookie is improving in pass protection to the point where the coaches feel somewhat comfortable. Compared to the plodding Rodgers, Freeman already is faster and more dynamic as a third-down, change-of-pace type. Unlike Rodgers, Freeman’s future is usurping Jackson for feature back duties, something that may happen soon after the rookie has flown out of the gate in preseason games. They know what Rodgers is at this point: just a change-up RB. Freeman is a little bigger and projects better to be the #2. Freeman was by far the more impressive runner and receiver in the Falcons’ three preseason games, albeit having to do it as a #3. Antone Smith is just a blip in this mix. There’s no reason to be discouraged by Falcons not yet elevating Freeman to #2, because his talent is better suited to being featured in the case the 31-year-old Jackson is broken down and/or out. Rodgers has much less appeal as a de facto #2 in what should look more like a backup RBBC early. Updated: 8/24


Carolina Panthers


The Battle: Kelvin Benjamin vs. Jerricho Cotchery vs. Jason Avant vs. Brenton Bursin for team’s starting and backup WR jobs (#1, #2 and #3)


The Skinny: Benjamin stands as tall (6’5”) as Cam Newton, and the rookie first-rounder spent his short pre-camp summer vacation building his chemistry with Newton. He’s the easy #1 in this limited passing offense. During training camp practices, he caught almost everything. He lived up to that right away in his preseason debut, making a dazzling circus TD catch from Derek Anderson. As for Cotchery and Avant, it’s a situational #2 WRBC. They are both best suited for the slot, but Cotchery, with some red-zone pop, is the better of the two to play outside opposite Benjamin. Avant is limited to playing only the slot. Bursin was the surprise #4 in the mix; both Tiquan Underwood and Tavarres King were cut. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: DeAngelo Williams vs. Jonathan Stewart for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: Stewart, early in the off-season, looked healthy to the point he was spryer than ever. Then came training camp, and like clockwork, he injured his hamstring and didn’t come back until the third week of practices. On a positive note, he returned to action in the second preseason game and looked good in bursting through for two touchdowns. He also was the more effective back in the third game. At 27, he’s still four years younger than Williams, who’s trying to hold off what could be a sharp decline. If trusted to stay healthy, Stewart would be the better #1 option because his running style is built to make the most of the limited holes Carolina’s maligned line will create. He’s also capable enough as a receiver to handle the bigger workload overall. If the Panthers could play it right, Williams would back up Stewart, with fullback Mike Tolbert being the fallback for third-down and red-zone situations. Knowing them, however, it looks like the familiar, frustrating RBBC until an injured Stewart or older Williams forces their hand. Updated: 8/23


New Orleans Saints 


The Battle: Kenny Stills vs. Brandin Cooks for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Stills will hold the #2 designation because he’ll be the one starting outside opposite Marques Colston. But when you include tight endJimmy Graham and the way the Saints will move around their receiving personnel, Cooks, the lightning-fast rookie first-rounder, is making a dazzling case to trump Stills in terms of potential production. They’re counting on the duo to be the new Lance Moore and Darren Sproles for Drew Brees, but that sets up Cooks for more targets. Cooks already is being called upon to be a quick playmaker in the Sproles vein, but he’s capable of playing outside as well as inside. That came to fruition as he was targeted more than any other Saint in his preseason debut and exploded after making catches in open field. At this point, Cooks has impressed so much by doing everything, he is very ready while Stills has battled a quad injury. As Stills is still hurting, it only tilts the appeal more toward Cooks. Stills may not play in Week One. Updated: 8/27


The Battle: Pierre Thomas vs. Mark Ingram vs. Khiry Robinson for team’s starting and backup RB jobs (#1 and #2)


The Skinny: It’s another year of the typical New Orleans RBBC. In terms of a featured runner to lead it in terms of first-team opportunities, Ingram has stood out most. He’s shown some power, surprising new-look explosiveness and red-zone finishing as the proof he’s tapped more into some of that first-round draft pedigree at the right time. It looked early in the off-season that Robinson, with his blend of size and pop, would have the most appeal, but through three preseason games, it’s clear he’s still behind Ingram for the early-down ball-carrying work. Ingram seems motivated by the fact he will be a free agent in 2015 to run with the extra needed juice to hold off Robinson. While Ingram has been a more effective pass-catcher than Robinson, Thomas is the one tabbed most to pick up the backfield receiving slack for departed Darren Sproles. Even though he’s not the traditional “change-of-pace”, Thomas is their third-down guy because of his versatility and experience. Based on their usage of Ingram and Thomas, Robinson has become odd man out to see significant, productive touches, at least early in the season. He has to show off much of his talent from his more limited role to make the Saints rethink things later. Otherwise, Robinson’s relevance is tied to one of the other backs going down. Updated: 8/24

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 


The Battle: Mike Glennon vs. Josh McCown for team’s starting QB job (#1)


The Skinny: McCown was tabbed to start over Glennon in 2014 right after the Bucs signed him, and the team stopped just short of officially confirming that status going into camp. They have tailored their entire passing offense to the former Bears supersub, and given how good their defense can be in Year 1 under Lovie Smith, McCown is the best man for the job of facilitating victories. The Bucs, meanwhile, have been hot-and-cold on Glennon throughout the off-season, and we don’t know if their new regime is even committed to looking at him as the quarterback of the future anymore. McCown, like all along, will be #1. Smith just confirmed Glennon is the #2 right before the preseason opener. Updated: 8/7


The Battle: Charles Sims vs. Bobby Rainey vs. Mike James for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The Bucs don’t plan to overwork Doug Martin anymore, but they may have no choice to keep him on the field consistently through three downs. Unfortunately for the speedy third-rounder Sims, he’s out of the picture as a rookie after suffering a long-term ankle injury in the week before the second preseason game. That leaves Rainey as the guy to get the first change-of-pace touches behind Martin, and James figures to stick around as the #3. It’s worth nothing that both Rainey and James did well with individual high workloads with Martin on the shelf last season. While both are healthy, it sets up Martin to be replaced by a RBBC rather than one true handcuff this season. Rainey is firmly the #2 after James is coming back from a shoulder injury. Updated: 8/25

The Battle: Brandon Myers vs. Austin Seferian-Jenkins for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Myers was signed to help the team’s blocking, and Seferian-Jenkins was drafted for his tantalizing size and receiving skills. But because Myers isn’t much of an athlete and Seferian-Jenkins is more of a raw project, the Bucs were hoping departed Tim Wright would have good value to the offense before he was traded to New England with a fourth-round pick for Logan Mankins. Instead Wright struggled with drops in his hybrid TE-WR role, and didn’t please enough with his blocking to get ahead of Myers or Seferian-Jenkins as someone they can feature as an extension of the formation. It’s hard to read how the snaps will shake out among Myers and ASJ but this is a classic TEBC that sets up an exciting rookie to eventually shoot past now just one limited veteran. ASJ should be the “move” TE eventually, once he knows what he’s doing. He is worth watching as a potential midseason flier. Based on the early going, the Bucs seem ready to use more two-tight end sets. It’s setting up Seferian-Jenkins to soon become the coveted third tower behind big wideouts Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. For the moment, he’s a close #2 behind Myers. Updated: 8/26


NFC West


Arizona Cardinals


The Battle: Stepfan Taylor vs. Jonathan Dwyer for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: This situation is just another reason the Cardinals can’t stop raving about how many catches and carries clear-cut feature back Andre Ellington should get this season. As Ellington is easily their best early- and third-down option, it was down to Taylor and Dwyer for who gives him the first breather on short-yardage power and goal-line sets. The younger holdover, Taylor, had the early edge for #2, but Dywer, who did his share of surprising in Pittsburgh, earned the top backup job away late in the preseason. When Ellington dealt with a neck injury in camp, Taylor got the first-team reps and got listed ahead of Dwyer on the depth chart. Dwyer, however became the better #2 on early downs based on his knowledge of the offense and experience. When Ellington needed to be relieved in the red zone, it was Dwyer who got the call over Taylor in the second preseason game. Dwyer was easily ahead of Taylor to confirm the Cardinals feelings in the third game. Updated: 8/25


The Battle: John Brown vs. Ted Ginn for team’s #3 WR job


The Skinny: The Cardinals’ goal with their #3 this season was obvious: Find someone with the big-play flair to take advantage of the attention starters Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd get as they catch everything thrown their way. Ginn broke through in a one-trick role in Carolina last season, and he went into camp as the #3 over the blazing rookie Brown. That lead was small, however, after the coaches realized they need to get Brown’s speed on the field as much as possible, whether it’s as a returner or receiver. Ginn’s experience is his biggest advantage, but at the rate Brown is catching up, Ginn’s bound to keep losing more ground. It didn’t take long for GM Steve Keim to call Brown “uncover-able” in camp. Brown is probably a better deep threat than Ginn. The real question is how many snaps with the #3 WR get here, since they will use a ton of 2-TE sets. Brown showed burst all over the field while targeted often in the preseason opener while Ginn and Floyd didn’t play. Keim just compared Brown to Anquan Boldin. Meanwhile, Ginn has even fallen behind Jaron Brown, the new #4. Updated: 8/25


The Battle: Rob Housler vs. John Carlson vs. Troy Niklas for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Bruce Arians’ vertical, wide receiver-oriented scheme is where tight ends with good receiving skills (usually, but not always) go to dry up in the desert. We’ve already seen its effect on Housler’s potential, and Carlson isn’t immune. In reality, Niklas offers the most to Arians as a blocker, but injuries have Niklas (sports hernia surgery, broken hand) headed to a most inauspicious rookie season. Sometimes, Housler feels like their #1, and other times, his roster spot seems to be in jeopardy. If he can shake his bad injury luck, Carlson would be the #1, but Housler’s upside does remain in play at least for now. He’s the better athletic receiver than Carlson, but Carlson looks favored in that role. Look for a lot of 2-TE sets, because they are actually deep at the position. Housler continues to do little with limited opportunity. A fourth option, Jake Ballard, decided to retire in camp. Updated: 8/25


San Francisco 49ers


The Battle: Carlos Hyde vs. Marcus Lattimore for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: Frank Gore may need to start sweating about his #1 status soon at age 31 and an intriguing young contender behind him, but for now, he’s still the bell cow. Projected #2 Kendall Hunter, the best change-of-pace option, tore his ACL and is out for the season. LaMichael James is just coming back from an elbow injury. That’s left Hyde to easily spell Gore (and soon, maybe succeed) as the early-down power back. Hyde is too good all-around to not at least be considered for a significant ball-carrying role right away. At first, the 49ers are looking to get Hyde involved as a short-yardage back. Due to his size and ability, Hyde would likely see a lot of carries if Gore couldn’t play – provided he was up to speed on the playbook. Hyde started in the preseason opener when Gore was rested, and showed his great promise with powerful chunk runs. It continued in the second and third games, getting plenty more time with the first team. It’s not looking good for Lattimore here, who has been hampered by more knee and hamstring woes in camp. Updated: 8/24


Seattle Seahawks


The Battle: Doug Baldwin vs. Jermaine Kearse vs. Paul Richardson for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Baldwin has been slated to start opposite Percy Harvin as their #2 outside, an upgrade for him following the departure of Golden Tate. Even as the “X”, he is set up to have the third-most value in this receiving corps behind Harvin and Kearse.. Sidney Rice choosing to retire helps situational target Kearse to jump up as jump-ball big playmaker. The Seahawks thought enough of Richardson’s speed to take him in the second round, but they also know the rookie isn’t quite ready to be much more than a #4 and return man. Updated: 8/23


The Battle: Christine Michael vs. Robert Turbin for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: Darrell Bevell’s declaration the Seahawks are going to RBBC this season it’s more tied to the desire to groom the powerful and explosive Michael to take over for Marshawn Lynch for good in the near future. Compared to Turbin, Michael is the much higher upside #2, and as the season progresses, it will get more difficult for Seattle to ignore that he soon should be #1. Turbin, however, has built on his good run as Lynch’s primary backup. He’s held his own impressing before Michael’s turn in preseason games. Should Lynch be unable to play in the regular season, both of those RBs are still bound to split the carries, with Michael having the upside because he’s much more explosive. Michael is still running #3 behind Turbin because the latter is the more complete back, but Michael is the better stash for the down the line because of his red-zone pop. The Seahawks can’t quite trust him as a feature back yet. Right off the bat, Michael is expected to miss Week One with a hamstring injury. Updated: 9/1

St. Louis Rams


The Battle: Zac Stacy vs. Benny Cunningham vs. Tre Mason for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: This is no longer a competition between last year’s workhorse and this year’s third-round pick. Stacy is in line to get the bulk of carries again because Mason simply isn’t ready, pass-protection and power running-wise, to really push for the gig. The notion of a potential RBBC was more in play early to keep everyone motivated. Stacy is the no-brainer #1 and will remain right there. Mason has fallen to #3 behind Benny Cunningham.Cunningham didn’t take long to lock down #2, and he even got a long look with the first team in the third preseason game. At best, coach Jeff Fisher is hoping Mason can provide some “change of pace” as a rookie. Cunningham is the true handcuff to Stacy as more the threat to eat into his carries when both are healthy. Isaiah Pead is out of the mix after suffering a serious knee injury (torn ACL) in the second preseason game. Updated: 8/28


The Battle: Tavon Austin vs. Kenny Britt vs. Brian Quick vs. Stedman Bailey vs. Chris Givens vs. Austin Pettis for team’s starting and backup WR jobs (#1, #2 and #3)


The Skinny: The Rams plan to get Austin a lot more involved this year. He’s tabbed to be their slot receiver, but they will line him up all over the formation). As for the starting jobs outside, Britt has impressed most. His size and pedigree have allowed him to unofficially take the lead for the traditional #1 role. Givens, as the best potential complementary deep threat, was considered #2 going into training camp, but Britt and Quick have taken over there. They were listed as the starters on the team’s initial unofficial depth chart, and that played out in the preseason as both have played well. Bailey, Austin’s college teammate, continues to impress as a playmaker. With his four-game suspension, however, the Rams know he won’t get his real chance in the mix until Week Six. Pettis’ experience isn’t helping him much, and there’s a good chance he will be cut. Givens has fallen to right there with him, trying to cling to #5. Barring injury, Britt and Quick are the Rams’ deserving Week One starters outside, but we also know they’ll now be catching passes from or Shaun HillUpdated: 8/24

AFC East


Buffalo Bills

The Battle: Bryce Brown vs. Anthony Dixon for team’s backup RB job (#3)


The Skinny: With it established that this is a 2-man backfield with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, we turn our attention to the #3 spot, which would have value if Jackson or Spiller missed time with an injury. Dixon is a special team’s contributor and can be a solid short-yardage back, but that’s about it. As long as Brown doesn’t have issues with fumbling and/or inferior running vision, he should be the #3. Brown has been the team’s best rusher through two preseason games, and that should help him easily trump Dixon. The team is very high on Brown and tried to trade for him in 2013. That’s worth noting for those in keeper or dynasty leagues, since Spiller is a FA in 2015 and Jackson is 33. Updated: 8/9

The Battle: Robert Woods 
vs. Mike Williams vs. Chris Hogan vs. Marquise Goodwin for team’s starting and backup WR jobs (#2 and #3)


The Skinny: It didn’t take long for the Bills to make rookie Sammy Watkins their #1. Woods, who was expected to start opposite him as the #2 after recovering well from ankle surgery, was behind Williams after two preseason games. Williams’ productive past in Tampa and history with HCDoug Marrone, along with his blocking ability outside, has him ahead. That leaves Woods still trying to get back in Marrone’s good graces as the surefire #3 and best slot option. Woods staked that claim starting for a nicked-up Watkins in the third preseason game. Goodwin will continue to flash with his track-star speed, but his size limitation will have him fighting more to be than a situational receiver (deep threat). Williams has stood out most in camp and has earned the #2 going into the season. He has been the outside guy EJ Manuel likes most as his top red-zone target. Updated: 8/30


Miami Dolphins


The Battle: Lamar Miller vs. Knowshon Moreno for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: It’s been a rocky first off-season for Moreno in Miami, but it’s gotten better at the right time. It started with immediate unimpressive practices related to questions about his conditioning. It continued with the need for left knee surgery that landed him on the PUP list to begin training camp. Miller’s lead on the #1 job had gotten a lot stronger in camp until Moreno was activated on Aug. 6. But coach Joe Philbin was non-committal toward Miller as a #1 after Moreno was healthy and ran well in the third preseason game, Miller has been the better-looking back over the entire off-season, but Philbin and OC Bill Lazor seem to still be feeling this as a RBBC where it’s hard to read both a) who will play more and b) who will play what role, early down vs. third down. Daniel Thomas, after not looking good and being hamstrung in the preseason, didn’t survive the team’s final camp cuts. Updated: 9/1 


New England Patriots


The Battle: Aaron Dobson vs. Brandon LaFell vs. Kenbrell Thompkins for team’s #3 WR job


The Skinny: Coming off foot surgery, Dobson started camp on the active/PUP list. That opened up this battle to be the heavy-snap “X” receiver outside, next in line behind busy littler targets Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. LaFell was signed more for his potential of trying to help fill the “joker” void of Aaron Hernandez as their fifth option behind three wideouts and tight end Rob Gronkowski. That just became less the case as former Buccaneer Tim Wright has joined the mix as the second tight end to complement Gronkowski’s in-line work. Thompkins, who continues to have more standout off-season moments, went from just trying on hold to his roster spot to staking his claim (again) for Dobson’s once presumed job. Thompkins made the most of being the starting “X” in preseason action while the more talented Dobson was on the mend. Dobson, however, should be the preferred “X” when fully healthy. He’s headed that way. He will pull ahead of Thompkins soon after playing well in the fourth preseason game. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Brandon Bolden vs. James White vs. Brandon Bolden for team’s #3 RB job


The Skinny: Stevan Ridley remains he #1 power back (for now) with LeGarrette Blount out of the picture, and the versatile Shane Vereen returns to the role as the dynamic #1 receiving back who’s bound to see the more snaps. As for who might get the most touches spelling them, Bolden came with last year’s experience of filling in okay for both, but White has intrigued the coaches more as the backup to both. White trumped Bolden in the pecking order early in camp. The coaches like the rookie’s goal-line potential, and he’s handled his pass responsibilities. The Patriots also should want to see more of White with an eye on next year, for when Ridley and Vereen both become free agents. Given their history and mystery with running backs, it wouldn’t be shocking to see White push for Ridley’s touches. But his lack of pop in preseason action hasn’t made them feel great about that possibility yet. He’s a little more than just a guy, however, and that gave him a final cut-edge over Bolden, although Bolden also made the team. White’s worth a late-round flyer for someone who drafts Ridley. Ridley, despite some early rumblings, survive the last round of cuts. Updated: 8/30


New York Jets


The Battle: Chris Johnson vs. Chris Ivory for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: The Jets will roll with Johnson first as their #1. They also know he’s 29 and need to keep from overworking him. They’ll watch Johnson closely because there are signs he’s slowing down and not effective as a “ground and pound” back they will hope Ivory is healthy to lean on more to split the early-down workload, with Ivory handling more of the interior running. Barring injury to Johnson, this will be a defined #1 vs. #2 coming out of camp that has potential to develop into a true RBBC soon. Jets coaches have already tabbed Ivory as the goal-line back. Johnson got the short score in the preseason opener, however, when Ivory left with banged-up ribs. We might get a little more clarity whenever Ivory returns, but for now, it’s nice to see Johnson doing a lot of something with a bulk of the preseason carries. Coach Rex Ryan just reaffirmed, however, he still sees this more of a RBBC with Johnson not carrying the load. Updated: 8/22


The Battle: Michael Vick vs. Geno Smith for team’s starting QB job (#1)


The Skinny: Not only has Vick struggled to perform like he’s worthy of #1 since OTAs and minicamp, he’s also mentally accepting he’s bound to be the backup here. What was once 50-50 has now titled toward Smith being the clear #1; we’re just waiting on the official obvious announcement. The top of the Jets’ organization also would like the coaches to trust turning the page to Smith, despite Vick’s experience in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense. As bad as Smith looked at times as a rookie, he showed flashes on which he can build. It would be a monumental upset if they didn’t hand him the ball again in Week 1. He’s already been steady enough in practices and preseason action to give the coaching staff more faith he is the #1. Meanwhile, Vick is being talked up as more as a Wildcat-wrinkle QB at best. He hasn’t pleased the coaches much as a regular QB in his first off-season. Meanwhile, Smith keeps looking a bit better with each game before his second regular season. Updated: 8/23


The Battle: Jeff Cumberland vs. Jace Amaro vs. Zach Sudfeld for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: The Jets liked Cumberland’s receiving skills enough to bring him back on a three-year deal in March, but that was before they drafted the way more athletic Amaro. While Cumberland remains limited as an in-line guy with good hands, Amaro has dazzled with his ability to line up and catch balls everywhere. The rookie is more like a wide receiver hybrid, setting him up to be more immediately productive than Cumberland in the passing game. Amaro also has untapped blocking ability. But on the downside, the playbook will be a challenge for Amaro, since he came from a totally different offense (spread vs. WCO). That’s shown as his off-season struggles have continued in camp. It’s opened the door for the athletic Sudfeld, darling of Patriots camp last year, to get some first-team reps. Sudfeld looked like the Jets’ best short-term “move” option as a receiver, but Amaro is catching up fast and finally looked the part in the third preseason game. Given the Jets need someone to step up to be the second receiving option behind Eric Decker, Amaro should get chances to keep slow-building his value in the regular season. Updated: 8/23


The Battle: Jeremy Kerley vs. David Nelson for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: The addition of Eric Decker answered the #1 question early. Nelson and Kerley answered the #2 and #3 late in the preseason with Hill being among the team’s final cuts. Kerley has a good history of production with the team, but the Jets would like to relegate him to what he does best: work the slot as a #3 receiver. Nelson (6’5”) and Stephen Hill (6’4”) both were appealing to put opposite Decker as big possession types and had a tight competition. Although Hill was the more explosive athlete, Nelson trumped him in a key area: just catching the ball. Nelson hasn’t lit it up really; he just more earned #2 because there wasn’t a better option and Hill was cut. Updated: 8/31


AFC North


Baltimore Ravens


The Battle: Bernard Pierce vs. Lorenzo Taliaferro for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: This will be the Ravens’ #1 job for at least the start of the season with Ray Rice’s two-game suspension. Pierce, who’s held down the backup job for two years, has nailed down #2 again after coming back well from major shoulder surgery. After a bad 2013, he’s been re-energized by a zone-blocking scheme that fits his power running style. That showed up when he got extended time early in the preseason, getting equal first-team work with Rice. He’s not only the #1, but he can push to make this more into a RBBC when Rice returns, and not necessarily as the second man up again. When Pierce was shelved earlier in the off-season, Justin Forsett got the second-team reps behind Rice, but the versatile journeyman is best suited to a third-down relief role. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was drafted because of some Rice-like on-field qualities. Taliaferro is behind Rice and Pierce, but has the power and pop to push for more touches as the season progresses. When Pierce left the third preseason game with a concussion, and Rice also didn’t play, Forsett picked up a good chunk of the workload. Pierce was cleared and practicing a week later, so he should be good to go as the #1 for the opener. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Jacoby Jones vs. Marlon Brown for team’s #3 WR job


The Skinny: Torrey Smith is the #1, and newcomer Steve Smith figures to get the Ravens’ second-most wideout targets, even if it comes from often working out of the slot. When you factor the receiving skills of tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, Jones vs. Brown is really for the right to be the #5 option. The Ravens are better off letting Jones go back to being a return man first, providing occasional downfield pop as a #4 wideout. Brown looked very good at times as an undrafted rookie last season, especially in the red zone. He’ll be slated to be the #3 who can best work off the Smiths in those situations. Updated: 8/30

Cincinnati Bengals


The Battle: Jeremy Hill vs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The rookie Hill was anointed as the #2 soon after he was drafted, the hammer to second-year lightning-quick feature back Giovani Bernard. There was a huge gap between Hill’s fresh, powerful legs and Green-Ellis’ fading, limited 28-year-old rushing skills, and it ended with Green-Ellis being released. It took no time for Hill to usurp Green-Ellis in camp and convince the coaches to lean this more toward a RBBC with Bernard. Unlike Green-Ellis, Hill can cut more into Bernard’s workload because he excels at catching the ball and has much better size. With Green-Ellis cut and Rex Burkhead battling a knee injury, Cedric Peerman will be the early #3 here. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Jermaine Gresham vs. Tyler Eifert for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Gresham is working to get back up to speed in camp after undergoing recent sports hernia surgery, which set up Eifert to see a lot more reps early. But make no mistake; the Bengals still like the value Gresham brings as a blocker to keep this as a TEBC to start the season. Hue Jackson will feature a lot of two-TE sets, however, and the foot injury to Marvin Jones should make them want to lean more on Eifert as a slot receiver early. The problem is, he was out with a shoulder injury for the second and third preseason games. The snaps and targets will lean more toward Eifert as the season progresses. Knowing Gresham is a pending free agent, it’s beneficial for the Bengals to expand Eifert’s role into something that resembles full time. Updated: 8/24


The Battle: Marvin Jones vs. Mohamed Sanu for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Jones broke from the pack to become A.J. Green’s best complement in 2013, and the Bengals haven’t been able to stop gushing about him as the clear-cut #2 this off-season. Unfortunately, a broken foot has put him on the shelf for multiple weeks. Sanu, who had this job at this time last year, gets a temporary shot to rise from #3. He’s not nearly as skilled as Jones. The Bengals were looking at Sanu as more of a versatile, situational slot player. When Jones is healthy, that means few snaps under Hue Jackson, who won’t feature three wideout-sets often. They still like Sanu, but they love Jones. They just need to wait to put him opposite Green again. Sanu has looked much better than ever with the increased targets in Jones’ absence, but it’s hard to trust as a #2 at near the same level of Jones. Updated: 8/17


Cleveland Browns


The Battle: Ben Tate vs. Terrance West vs. Isaiah Crowell for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: Both the Browns and Tate feel good about his status as the #1, but he had little margin for error in camp. He couldn’t afford to invoke any of his past lack of durability with Houston. It happened in minicamp, when Tate was held out with injury and West impressed even more as a compact power back handling the first-team reps. The Browns already want the rookie involved often in their running game, and all it will take is a couple of cracks created by Tate’s nicks to help West convince them he should be the #1 not too long into the regular season. West had his moments as a second-teamer in the preseason opener, and his goal to become the league’s top rookie back still isn’t out of reach. The opportunity just won’t knock quite yet, as Tate held down #1 coming out of third preseason game. West will start off as a clear #2 in Week One. As for Crowell, he did flash in the final preseason game and made the team (Dion Lewis was cut). Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer for team’s starting QB job (#1)


The Skinny: Hoyer was named the Browns’ Week 1 starting quarterback by Mike Pettine after the second preseason game. The coach didn’t change his mind after Hoyer struggled in the third preseason game. Hoyer held his pre-training camp lead, battling Manziel well and shaking off lingering effects of his torn ACL. Even though neither Hoyer nor Manziel stood out (more like struggled) in preseason action, Hoyer got the nod because of experience here. That said the Browns didn’t draft Manziel to be their new franchise QB just to sit for his entire rookie season behind Hoyer. They also aren’t having Kyle Shanahan put in RG3-style wrinkles just for kicks. This is their way of telling Manziel he isn’t quite ready and mature enough, and that Hoyer is the better competitive option as they wait on the rookie to become the NFL version of Johnny Football. We thought Manziel might be able to win the job early, but his struggles at the onset of camp happened while Hoyer looked more like the man. Now Manziel’s best chance for his first NFL start will come in Week 5 against Tennessee, after the Week 4 bye and the Browns opening with tough defensive matchups for Hoyer: Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore. If Cleveland is 0-3 at that point, it would only make more sense to give the kid his shot then. Also, the Browns can’t ignore Manziel finished the preseason action strong, both showing off his good rushing skills and not throwing a single interception. He could get on the field in certain packages early in the season even with Hoyer starting. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Andrew Hawkins vs. Miles Austin for team’s starting and backup WR jobs (#2 and #3)


The Skinny: Hawkins and Austin are now the projected starters for the entire season after the NFL upheld the year-long suspension of Josh Gordon.The Browns are now more fortunate they stole Hawkins away from the Bengals. Hawkins stood out as the best-performing wide receiver before training camp when the Browns learned he can do a tad more than just work the slot. So far, the former Pro Bowler Austin’s hamstrings have held up, and he’s showing a few hints of his old Cowboys form. While Gordon was around, Austin was the #2 starter outside, with Hawkins as the #3 slot guy. Overall, Hawkins has been the most impressive non-Gordon, non-Jordan Cameron pass-catcher. He also seems to click well on the field with tabbed starting QB Brian Hoyer. Austin might have a little more appeal because he’s the best remaining outside threat. Nate Burleson, as expected, fell out of the mix early and was let go during the team’s final cuts. They also cut interesting UFA Willie Snead, so Charles Johnson and Taylor Gabriel look like the top backups. Updated: 8/31

Pittsburgh Steelers


The Battle: Markus Wheaton vs. Lance Moore vs. Darius Heyward-Bey vs. Martavis Bryant for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: It’s now Wheaton’s turn as the starting speedster opposite well-rounded, do-everything Antonio Brown. The Steelers tabbed him for the #2 after not bringing back Emmanuel Sanders, and Wheaton hasn’t disappointed, with a firm hold on the job in camp. They do love what they’ve seen so far from the rookie fourth-rounder Bryant, but his inexperience with route-running and Pittsburgh’s playbook keeps him a little short. As we know from his Saints days, Moore will be just fine settling into the slot as the #3, exactly what he was signed for. Wheaton is the one to watch here. He’s lived up to that in preseason action as an “X” receiver, showing some red zone value as well. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been able to stop gushing about Wheaton. We would just like Wheaton to see look a little more consistent, because Roethlisberger does like targeting him. Also, with Moore a little too quiet and Bryant banged up and in over his head at this time, DHB could be a factor early here. Updated: 8/31


AFC South


Houston Texans


The Battle: Jonathan Grimes vs. Alfred Blue for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: Andre Brown was cut because Grimes performed well enough early in camp to take the lead to be oft-injured Arian Foster’s important top backupBlue is a promising rookie sixth-rounder, however, and he split first-team duties with Grimes in the Texans’ third preseason game when Foster sat. Their coaching staff likes Grimes a lot, so he should be tabbed for good work if Foster should need to miss time earlier in the season. But Blue has some good goal-line potential and would be looking at more than just a situational role. If Foster goes on the shelf at midseason or later, however, this would have a good chance to become a true backup RBBC but we’ve been leaning to Blue for weeks here. Updated: 8/31


The Battle: Ryan Mallett vs. Tom Savage for team’s backup QB job (#2)


The Skinny: Bill O’Brien named Ryan Fitzpatrick the Texans’ starter for the beginning of the 2014 NFL season before camp. The focus since then has been on who might get the next shot in case of injury or Fitzpatrick flopping badly early. Enter Mallett late in a trade with the Patriots; exit last year’s #2, Case Keenum. It was clear the rookie Savage hasn’t been quite ready to figure out O’Brien’s complex system, and he just needs more work on preparing better to play down the line. O’Brien handpicked Savage for the future, but Mallett comes from his old system in New England. Fitzpatrick will lose the job to one of them if the Texans are struggling by midseason (2-6 record, for example). If it’s early to mid season, that would be Mallett, because of the familiarity and experience, but if it’s late in the season, it could be a more developed Savage so O’Brien to find out more about his potential in games that count. Updated: 9/1


The Battle: Garrett Graham vs. Ryan Griffin vs. C.J. Fiedorowicz for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Bill O’Brien’s past in New England suggests he ideally wants to feature at least a pair of tight ends in the passing game. Graham is the most experienced and reliable going into camp. As the “move” tight end, he will be treated early as an H-back/wide receiver hybrid. Although Griffin is bigger and more athletic, that hasn’t played out as he tried to hold off Fiedorowicz for main in-line duties. Fiedorowicz has Rob Gronkowski-like size, hands and blocking promise. The rookie has developed quickly enough as a receiver in camp to work ahead of Griffin as the better #2 so far. There’s some buzz from the rookie out of Iowa, to the point he’s worth watching as his role expands in the offense. At the least, the Texans will have him on the field a good chunk of the time. Updated: 8/24


Indianapolis Colts


The Battle: Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Dan Herron for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The Colts are giving Trent Richardson the huge opportunity to rebound as the heavy-load feature back. They were hoping to have some more options if he were to falter again, but it’s down to Bradshaw and Herron after Vick Ballard tore his Achilles’ during the first weekend of camp and soon after, Chris Rainey was released. Bradshaw, coming off neck surgery, saw important first-team action in third preseason game to help provide clarity that for now, he’s back healthy enough to be #2. Herron has had some chances to impress as a #3, and given Richardson’s ineffectiveness and Bradshaw’s injury history, can’t be ignored in this delicate situation. Updated: 8/24


The Battle: Dwayne Allen vs. Coby Fleener for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Allen has recovered well from hip surgery. The Colts got him back in the flow of running routes and catching passes early in the off-season. There’s no doubt he has the huge blocking advantage over Fleener for them to want Allen on the field more. Fleener did a few good things as a receiver last season, but that was a result of the Colts not having the wideout depth they have now and Allen being hurt Allen, the better all-around athlete, is your #1 barring a setback. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll have more fantasy value than Fleener, who is taller and more athletic. For now, it’s a receiving TEBC until someone emerges. Allen and Fleener have different standout talents, but Allen still deserves the primary consideration. Updated: 8/24


Jacksonville Jaguars


The Battle: Blake Bortles vs. Chad Henne for team’s starting QB job (#1)


The Skinny: The Jaguars had tabbed Henne to start before they even drafted Bortles, and that tune hasn’t changed; coach Gus Bradley has named him the #1 for Week 1 against the Eagles. They have been okay with marching to a unique beat and have Bortles sit and learn as much as possible before throwing him into the fire. The rookie third overall pick needed both a superstar-like preseason and Henne having major struggles, only the first half of the equation happened. Their old-school grooming approach stemmed from concerns about Bortles’ initial NFL-readiness and their receiving corps. If the Jaguars had it their way, Henne would be the man for every game, but the way Bortles has been up to speed on the offense, he’s pushing for playing time later in the season (at the very least) assuming they’re out of it. There was more than a hint of his future promise as he passed his first preseason game test with flying colors. Another stellar performance in the second preseason game gave the Jaguars a little more to think about, but Henne still was their easy choice. Bortles got one more audition for an early-season push in the fourth preseason game, and did nothing to change the impression. Updated: 8/29


The Battle: Marqise Lee vs. Allen Hurns vs. Allen Robinson for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Given the continued injury concerns with (default) #1 Cecil Shorts, who’s followed up sports hernia surgery with a bad hamstring this off-season, the #2 has the potential to be a very busy target. Lee had been working early at Justin Blackmon’s former position outside. Lee impressed in camp and although it took a while, showed off his promise in preseason action. The only goal with the fellow rookie Robinson, who’s behind Lee in his development, is being able to use him outside in three-wide sets at some point. Unfortunately, Robinson joined Shorts in being hamstrung. That’s left rising rookie UDFA Hurns to be the second most impressive rookie overall. Lee is set to start with a healthy Shorts, with Hurns next in the pecking order as the #3 until Robinson can start pushing for time. The plan before Robinson got hurt was to start him at X along with Lee at Z and Shorts in the slot. When they go 2-WR, the guess is that Robinson comes off the field with Shorts playing X. Hurns, meanwhile, has quickly become less of a deep sleeper and someone who can’t be ignored in this mix. Updated: 9/1

The Battle: Jordan Todman vs. Denard Robinson for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: The Jaguars plan to pound away with Toby Gerhart as the #1, elevating him from reliable Vikings backup to an every-down back. That makes this more of a straight back-up situation. Todman was a valuable, versatile reserve last season, and he answered the bell well when he was asked to start. He remains the easy #2 because it’s hard to read how much the Jaguars are willing to rely on Robinson as a pass-catcher and pass blocker out of the backfield. While Gerhart is missing some with a hip flexor injury, Todman got the start in the preseason opener. Robinson will be looked at more to throw into certain personnel packages as a change-of-pace wrinkle, but Todman projects as the best handcuff here unless Robinson really takes a significant step forward, which is possible. Rookie Storm Johnson has some pop, but that doesn’t make up enough for his inexperience to be considered for a key backup role yet, but he did make the team. Updated: 8/31


Tennessee Titans


The Battle: Justin Hunter vs. Nate Washington for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: The Titans know they have a third-year keeper in #1 Kendall Wright, and it makes most sense to pair him with rising second-year player Hunter as the new #2. Washington is coming off a productive season, but he is turning 31 and gives up a lot in both size and age to Hunter, 23. As they go to a more balanced attack that doesn’t spread the field as much, the Titans believe the 6’4” Hunter can be the ideal big possession target beyond the red-zone work he got as a rookie. They’re hopeful he will be consistent enough with his hands and route running to merit the huge jump in snaps. To his credit, he’s added some weight and bulk to prepare for an expanded role this year. Washington is still valuable to have around as Tennessee’s traditional wideouts quickly thin out on the depth chart. He’s looking like the #2 in terms of whom the Titans trust outside with Wright because of occasional big-play ability, but the talent void is clear in relation to Hunter. Hunter is not “just another guy” as his camp jersey suggested; he’s still a guy with huge upside. Witness his monster second preseason game: four catches, 112 yards, two TDs. The real question with Hunter is whether Jake Locker can be consistently effective in getting him the ball. There haven’t been enough raves for Hunter’s stellar red-zone work so far.Updated: 8/24


The Battle: Bishop Sankey vs. Shonn Greene for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: The Titans drafted Sankey to replace Chris Johnson as the #1, but early in camp coach Ken Whisenhunt declared they still needed to figure out how big of an initial role Sankey will have. They should like to feature his fresh legs soon because their alternative is a plodding veteran. Greene shouldn’t be looked at as more than a short-yardage/goal-line and complementary back in comparison, but for the moment, he’s somehow tabbed for sizeable role despite coming off a pair of right knee surgeries. While there is clear separation in talent between the more dynamic Sankey and Greene, Sankey is fighting for prominent snaps and touchdown chances. When you consider versatile Dexter McCluster is set to be the third-down back (in the Danny Woodhead-like role), this has become more of muddled RBBC after it has appeared like Sankey might be the man right away. Consider in the third preseason game, it was Greene up first with Sankey splitting the backup snaps with the others. If it becomes apparent that Sankey isn’t an ideal feature back, a healthy Greene would have more sneaky value. For now, Sankey, whom the coaches praised overall for his preseason game work, still has the edge to become their top overall back, but you can’t totally trust that status anymore, at least early. Updated: 8/30


AFC West


Denver Broncos


The Battle: Ronnie Hillman vs. C.J. Anderson vs. for team’s backup RB job (#2)


The Skinny: Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase declared early that “everybody’s competing” to emerge as Montee Ball’s top backup. Hillman seems to have all but secured the #2 coming out of camp as he had that role in the important third preseason game. Anderson, knocked out of the first preseason game, tried to help his case working well with the starters and scoring in the second preseason game. Hillman has more appeal and pop behind Ball because he’s easily the best changeup and complementary option. When all three backs are healthy, he could work very well in conjunction with Ball while getting a lot more snaps than Anderson. It looked early that if Ball went on the shelf Anderson would be the better bet to handle most of his workload, but Hillman, who has rebounded to hold his ground, would now be the clear leader of a backup RBBC committee. Hillman would be the guy to draft, but more so because of change-of-pace spillover value than his must-have handcuff status. Of note, rookie UDFA Juwan Thompson impressed enough to make the team as an intriguing #3. Updated: 9/1


Kansas City Chiefs


The Battle: Donnie Avery vs. A.J. Jenkins for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Except for a couple big games, Avery didn’t exactly light it up as last season’s #2 opposite Dwayne Bowe. The good news for him in 2014 is that just holding steady has kept him ahead of Jenkins who has yet to do anything spectacular this off-season. The Chiefs had some confidence the former 49er could inch closer to his first-round pedigree, but instead Jenkins has been nicked up and uninspiring. Avery held on to the job in camp, with Jenkins fighting for snaps over slot-suited options Junior HemingwayAlbert Wilson, and De’Anthony Thomas. After suffering a concussion late in preseason action, Jenkins did make the team, but he might not play over Frankie HammondUpdated: 8/31


The Battle: Anthony Fasano vs. Travis Kelce for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Given his age (30) and recent pileup of injuries, Fasano has become even more of a pedestrian pass-catcher with limited red-zone value. While his blip further fades in the offense, opportunity knocks for the athletic 24-year-old Kelce. His recovery from microfracture right knee surgery took the entire off-season before camp, but he got the green light to showcase all of his wares in camp and preseason games. He did just that, delivering his big-play flair in the first two contests. If the knee holds up, Kelce’s hands and athleticism should allow him to shoot past Fasano and push for a busy receiving role in his second season. Don’t be fooled by the Chiefs insistence on keeping Fasano as more the in-line type #1 with Kelce as the move-like #2. The latter is the one to target in leagues late as a high-upside TE2. Updated: 8/24


Oakland Raiders


The Battle: Darren McFadden vs. Maurice Jones-Drew for team’s starting RB job (#1)


The Skinny: This has been trending toward an RBBC for a few reasons. Looking at both backs’ recent injury history and paltry yards per carry, the Raiders want to avoid putting either in a situation to take too much wear. On the bright side, if both can stay healthy and flash their old strengths, it would be a good way to utilize Jones-Drew’s compact power and McFadden’s change of pace. But of the two, Jones-Drew, listed as the initial #1, is still the better bet for the bigger, fantasy RB2-like workload. He just can be trusted more with volume. McFadden ended up backing up Jones-Drew’s former Jaguars backup, Rashad Jennings, late last season. When you compare the versatility and durability of both players, MJD is set up to be #1 out of the preseason, but that will likely mean only 5-10 more touches than McFadden. In the second preseason game, it is notable, however, that McFadden got the goal-line chances. Jones-Drew still was the featured guy in the third game as McFadden was the second teamer. Latavius Murray is the #3 behind them to watch. Updated: 8/23


The Battle: Matt Schaub vs. Derek Carr for team’s starting QB job (#1)


The Skinny: The Raiders had been busy talking about the potential for Schaub, 33, to have a big late-career rebound. So much for that. After a shaky preseason capped by a late elbow injury, the rookie Carr is starting Week One against the Jets because for now, and for the future, the Raiders realized he’s the best man for job. Sticking with Schaub was the early company line for giving him $8 million guaranteed. Schaub, however, lost ground quickly. The biggest (only?) thing working for him to stay the #1 was the rookie Carr’s lack of readiness. That became an increasingly smaller issue in the coaches’ minds, and after a most impressive preseason, Carr pulled off the upset for the starting nod. Carr had already easily driven past Matt McGloin for #2 going into camp, so it was just a matter of time before he displaced Schaub. It was only mildly surprising it happened immediately. Updated: 9/1


The Battle: Andre Holmes vs. Rod Streater vs. James Jones for team’s starting WR jobs (#1 and #2)


The Skinny: In terms of buzz, Holmes has been most impressive in camp with his size, speed and hands, making him the Raiders’ clear-cut best big-play threat. Unfortunately, he hasn’t take advantage of either that or last season’s finish in this year’s preseason action. Streater, who started with Holmes and then Jones in the two games, is trying to build on being the team’s most productive returning receiver to all but nail down the “Z” job. Jones came to the Raiders for his long-awaited chance to be a top receiver outside of Green Bay. It took some time, but it’s playing out more that way. At 31, Jones’ experience and red-zone pop have become more appealing to the Raiders in a consistent “X” role as he’s surprisingly pulled ahead of the dynamic Holmes late. Holmes will still get his downfield targets and has some appeal; it’s just more difficult to trust that he will have a big role in the offense. Updated: 8/30

The Battle: David Ausberry vs. Mychal Rivera for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: Ausberry is in catchup mode after an entire season lost to a shoulder injury, and he was catching up fast after he was the #1 through OTAs and minicamp. Unfortunately, having knee surgery in camp stopped that momentum. He’s a much better blocker than Rivera. He’s also bigger and faster. Rivera was, at his best, an okay red-zone receiver when Ausberry didn’t play in 2013. When Ausberry’s healthy and back on top of the depth chart, expect Rivera to see limited snaps as a backup. Of course, Ausberry has done next to nothing in his career thus far and Rivera has made some plays, so we’re not giving up on Rivera just yet. Rivera had a good opportunity in camp, working with the first team while Ausberry was out. He didn’t stand out, and Ausberry is on track to be healthy for Week One. Either way, this situation is dry of any notable TE receiving stats until further notice. Updated: 8/30

San Diego Chargers

The Battle: Antonio Gates vs. Ladarius Green for team’s starting TE job (#1)


The Skinny: The Chargers are still committed to Gates as their starter because of his experience as a venerable, prolific pass-catcher. But everyone can see that he’s lost more than a couple of steps and Green has the potential to dominate as an athletic big-play receiver soon. As Gates’ TDs and yards per catch have leaned toward ho-hum, there’s little reason to keep the team from significantly increasing Green’s snaps and targets. He can be a game-changer with every touch. Although Gates is designated as the #1, this is more a TEBC where Green could easily out-produce him in an even-split situation. Green looked outstanding in every capacity starting for Gates in the preseason opener, but Gates still looks to have the better value in the red zone. Consider them as co first-teamers based on situation, but Green has the much hotter TE2 upside late. Updated: 8/24


The Battle: Malcom Floyd vs. Vincent Brown for team’s starting WR job (#2)


The Skinny: Ever since Floyd has gotten cleared to return to action from his neck injury, he’s gone back to doing what he does best: using his speedy, lanky frame to stretch the field. He’s the ideal complement to second-year stud Keenan Allen for an offense that tends to be calculated with its deep shots. Floyd stayed healthy and kept playing well, easily winning #2.  Unfortunately for Brown, after being sidelined with a calf injury in the preseason, the Chargers decided to waive him during final camp cuts. Updated: 8/31




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