With training camp now underway for most teams, position battles are sure to heat up around the league. Fortunately, those who draft after the preseason (which we recommend doing to avoid injuries) will likely have a much clearer picture, but I’m going to take a shot at predicting the winners of the biggest battles this summer before preseason action begins.
LeSean McCoy v. Frank Gore v. Devin Singletary v. T.J. Yeldon
There has probably never been a four-way backfield competition quite like the one Buffalo will have this summer, as McCoy and Gore are both 10,000-yard rushers, Singletary was drafted in the third round to be the team’s running back of the future, and Yeldon—a former second-round pick—was promised a chance to compete before signing as a free agent. The Bills have said otherwise, but I still think there’s a chance McCoy will be released, which would probably mean Gore handles most of the early-down work with the other two mixing in. If not, this will be a headache that should be avoided, but Gore’s reliability could make him the best bet for weekly value.
Kenyan Drake v. Kalen Ballage
There didn’t seem to be a doubt as to who the starter was in Miami, but today, Ballage handled not only the first goal-line rep of camp, but also the first team rep of camp. Now, this is a July practice that could mean absolutely nothing come September, but new head coach Brian Flores might prefer the power of the second-year back at six-foot-two, 237 pounds after he rushed 36 times for 191 yards (5.3 YPC) and one touchdown in limited action as a rookie. I expect Drake to remain the starter, but perhaps the team likes him better in a heavily-involved, change-of-pace role like how he was used at Alabama. Preseason games will be telling.
Jordan Howard v. Miles Sanders
Philadelphia made Sanders the second running back off the board in the 2019 NFL Draft, so they clearly expect big things out of him in 2019 and beyond. That said, general manager Howie Roseman surrendered a sixth-round pick for Howard, and it’s worth noting that a) Sanders missed OTAs with a hamstring injury, and b) he needs to take better care of the football after fumbling five times last year at Penn State. If Doug Pederson can’t trust the rookie, he should have no problem giving the majority of the carries to Howard, who has rushed 778 times for 3,370 yards (4.3 YPC) and 24 touchdowns since entering the league in 2016. There will definitely be a rotation to get both guys (plus Darren Sproles and Corey Clement) involved, but I view Howard as the early favorite to lead the way.
Tevin Coleman v. Matt Breida v. Jerick McKinnon
The San Francisco backfield has the potential to be even more frustrating than Buffalo’s because all three of Coleman, Breida, and McKinnon are in the prime of their career, but there are a couple signs pointing to a somewhat clear leader. First of all, Kyle Shanahan targeted Coleman—who had other suitors in free agency—this offseason because he loved the explosiveness he brought when the two were together in Atlanta. Plus, simply from a health perspective, McKinnon (knee) and Breida (pectoral/everything) could be eased in, possibly leading to Coleman soaking up first-team reps this summer.
Andy Isabella v. Hakeem Butler v. KeeSean Johnson v. Kevin White
Kliff Kingsbury’s base offense is expected to have four wide receivers on the field along with running back David Johnson—leaving two starting spots up for grabs behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. I don’t know how Butler fell to the fourth round in April’s draft, but I thought he was a top-20 overall prospect, and his size at over six-foot-five could make him an immediate threat in the red zone. Isabella, on the other hand, looks like Wes Welker in a compact, five-foot-nine frame—but has 4.31 speed and the ability to win downfield. Johnson and White will push for a starting job, but Fitzgerald (size/possession), Kirk (speed/balance), Isabella (speed/possession), and Butler (size/speed) give Arizona a group that complements one another perfectly.
Chris Conley v. D.J. Chark v. Keelan Cole v. Terrelle Pryor
Jacksonville, too, should have the top spots on the depth chart locked up (Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook), so there will be one spot up for grabs. Simply based on his size not being a match for Nick Foles’ playing style, Cole is probably going to be a role player, leaving Conley or Chark as the most likely candidate to bring a size element to the receiving corps. Both guys have elite speed and athleticism, but I think it will come down to whoever is able to player “bigger” and with more consistency over the next month. The edge may go to Conley because he should have some built-in chemistry with Foles based on their time together in Kansas City, though whether it leads to fantasy value is another story.
James Washington v. Donte Moncrief v. Diontae Johnson
Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer could also see playing time, but the No. 2 wide receiver competition is likely between Washington, Moncrief, and Johnson. I was a big fan of Washington coming out of Oklahoma State—where he averaged 19.4+ yards per reception in all three seasons as a starter—and Pittsburgh is certainly hoping for him to make a big leap in Year 2. Unless the 23-year-old really struggles in camp (or Moncrief/Johnson really flash), the Steelers should have their young duo set for the next few years. If Moncrief ends up winning out, he would have double-digit touchdown upside, while Johnson may contribute more on special teams to start his career.
David Moore v. D.K. Metcalf v. Gary Jennings v. Jaron Brown
The veterans Moore and Brown are said to have an early advantage to start alongside Tyler Lockett, but don’t be shocked if the Seahawks go with an all-upside group if Metcalf and Jennings prove ready for the league. It was pretty amazing to watch Seattle’s second-round pick go from potential top-five pick (when a picture released of him having a Batman-like physique) to future “bust” (based on his sub-par 3-cone time at the Combine) in the eyes of “Twitter experts,” but he could immediately be a force on the perimeter if Seattle utilizes him correctly. Drafted two rounds later, Jennings received almost no buzz in the pre-draft process, but he reminded me of Chris Godwin and could be an absolute steal for both real-life and fantasy purposes.
Gore and Singeltary duo all day.
Gore over McCoy? Now that’s funny.
Washington needs to step up.
SOMEONE better step up for Foles.