Although we’re still a couple months away from training camp, which is when the real competition begins, OTAs get underway this week, giving teams a first look at their developing rosters. There will be plenty of competition in the coming weeks, pitting rookies, veterans and newly acquired players against one another as they battle for starting jobs.
To get you ready for the next phase of the offseason, we selected 15 of the best position battles to watch during OTAs – specifically ones created by offseason additions.
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DeShone Kizer vs. Cody Kessler vs. Brock Osweiler
The Browns are going to have an open competition at quarterback all summer, and it begins this week at OTAs. Hue Jackson has said this is Kessler’s job to lose, which is reasonable considering how well he played in 2016, but either of the two other guys can swoop in and nab the starting gig.
Kizer in particular has big upside and could impress with his physical traits, big arm and mobility. It’ll take him a few months to establish himself, but the road begins in OTAs, where he needs to show he can read a defense and command an NFL huddle.
Chidobe Awuzie vs. Orlando Scandrick vs. Jourdan Lewis
The Cowboys went from dangerously thin at cornerback after losing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, to having remarkable depth. Nolan Carroll and Anthony Brown are likely to be the primary starters on the outside, but two rookies will be battling Scandrick for the nickel spot.
Awuzie, a second-round pick, has good size and instincts in the slot, while Lewis is undersized but plays the ball extremely well. There was a report that the Cowboys were shopping Scandrick, which was later denied, but he’ll have his hands full this offseason.
APMark J. Terrill
Leonard Fournette vs. Chris Ivory vs. T.J. Yeldon
This isn’t as much of a competition as some of the others on this list because of the fact that Fournette is the best running back on the roster, but he’ll still have to win the starting job after being drafted fourth overall. He’ll need to prove he can pass protect and catch passes with ease out of the backfield to hold off Ivory – who’s coming off of an abysmal season – and Yeldon.
Expect Fournette to win out fairly easily simply because his skill set is better than that of the other two. The Jaguars want to change their offensive philosophy, and he’s the perfect player to do that with.
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Marcus Maye vs. Calvin Pryor
The Jets sent a clear message to Pryor on the first two nights of the draft by taking safeties in the first and second rounds. Jamal Adams is going to start at one spot, but Maye will have to supplant Pryor for the second. Based on his skill set and draft position, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Maye is much better in coverage as a free safety,= and that will allow Adams to roam closer to the line of scrimmage, where he’s best. Pryor can still play, there’s no doubt about that, but he has to show he can be a more versatile safety.
Garett Bolles vs. Donald Stephenson
The Broncos had to be thrilled that they got their guy in the first round, when Bolles fell in their laps. He’s not a lock to start at left tackle this offseason, though, as that spot is occupied by Stephenson. Bolles has the potential to be a really good left tackle in the NFL, but he does need a little bit of time.
As a result, Stephenson will likely begin the offseason as the starter with Bolles getting second-team reps. That’s perfectly fine because as long as the rookie impresses the coaching staff, he’ll get a shot to move up the depth chart.
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Alvin Kamara vs. Adrian Peterson vs. Mark Ingram
Sean Payton loves a crowded running back room, and he has one this offseason with three capable backs. Kamara is a good talent who dropped because of running back depth in the draft, while Peterson hopes to still have some gas left in the tank. Ingram is somewhat of a combination of the two and is probably the Saints’ best option at the moment.
He’s coming off of his first 1,000-yard season and proved last year he can handle a heavy workload without getting injured, which is an accomplishment in its own right. Kamara and his quickness could poach valuable snaps from Ingram, though, while Peterson will likely be relegated to early-down carries only.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Dalvin Cook vs. Latavius Murray
The Vikings overhauled the running back position this offseason by parting ways with Adrian Peterson, signing Murray and drafting Cook. All the moves should lead to a drastic improvement at that spot for the Vikings, particularly with the electrifying rookie. Cook is a more versatile back than Murray, having good speed and hands out of the backfield.
He can score from anywhere on the field, which is something the Vikings struggled to do last season. They’ll likely split carries in the beginning with Murray getting slightly more touches, but Cook’s skill set will be impossible to ignore.
Associated PressJim Mone
Christian Hackenberg vs. Josh McCown vs. Bryce Petty
The Jets have one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL, and there’s very little they can do to improve it this offseason. Ultimately, it’ll come down to one of the three guys on the roster winning the job and hoping to play at least half-decent football. Hackenberg and McCown are the front-runners for very different reasons – Hackenberg is young and has potential, while McCown brings veteran leadership – but Petty is still in the running, too. Regardless of who emerges, the Jets are in some serious trouble offensively. Hackenberg should get a shot after sitting out all of 2016 despite being a second-round pick.
Mitchell Trubisky vs. Mike Glennon
Glennon is going to get the first crack at starting, and he should after the Bears spent $45 million to sign a player with at least some experience as a starter. If Glennon falters and struggles early on, though, Trubisky could swoop in and take the job. That’s only if he wows the coaching staff, of course.
Ultimately, it’ll be Glennon’s job to lose as long as he doesn’t play as poorly as he did in Tampa Bay when he lost out to Josh McCown. The Bears need him to play consistent football and grasp the offense right off the bat.
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Kevin King vs. Quinten Rollins vs. Davon House
The Packers added some much-needed cornerback help in the second round by drafting King, a long, rangy player with good ball skills. Green Bay struggled in the secondary last season, but the addition of King should help. He just needs to win one of the starting spots first.
Rollins is still a young player who’s developing after primarily playing basketball in college, while House is a veteran with starting experience. King should be the starter alongside Damarious Randall, but he won’t be handed the job right away.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsBenny Sieu
Deshaun Watson vs. Tom Savage
The Texans moved up to No. 12 to draft Watson, so you can expect him to get every opportunity to be the starting quarterback this season. Savage has a decent grip on the job right now simply based on experience and age, but Watson’s skill set is far more dynamic and capable of winning games in the NFL.
The rookie does need to improve in several areas, though, including decision-making, accuracy and pre-snap reads. If he can show the coaching staff that those traits have improved since his last season at Clemson, they could wind up giving him the keys before the start of the season.
Mike Gillislee vs. Rex Burkhead vs. James White vs. Dion Lewis
The Patriots don’t have a true starting running back with LeGarrette Blount still on the free-agent market, so they’ll probably roll into the season with a committee approach – a big committee, of course. Gillislee is the most capable of the bunch when it comes to running between the tackles and handling a heavy workload, but Burkhead is more physical than he gets credit for, while White and Lewis are essentially third-down backs.
On any given week, one of the four could see the most carries of the group, depending on the opponent and how coach Bill Belichick is feeling that fine Sunday. Expect to see Gillislee get plenty of work early on, though.
Obi Melifonwu vs. Reggie Nelson
The Raiders landed a physical freak in the second round with Melifonwu, who tested better than just about every other prospect at the Combine. He’s still raw and needs work, but the traits are undeniable. His combination of size and range in the secondary is a huge asset for the Raiders, who struggled against the pass last season.
He will need to be more aggressive when it comes to tackling because sometimes he relies too much on his athleticism and gets lazy in his technique. Nelson, 33, was a Pro Bowler in 2016, so he can still play, but age is catching up to him.
Derek Barnett vs. Chris Long vs. Vinny Curry
Barnett was a prolific pass rusher at Tennessee and landed in a perfect spot with the Eagles, who run a Wide 9 front in Jim Schwartz’s defense. He’s currently blocked by Long and Curry on the depth chart, though, with Brandon Graham starting on the other side.
Barnett has the highest ceiling of the three and could be a double-digit sack guy early in his career, but there’s still room to grow. He needs to be a relentless pass rusher who never gives up on a play in order to impress the coaching staff.
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JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Sammie Coates vs. Eli Rodgers
The Steelers are incredibly deep at wide receiver after adding Smith-Schuster in the draft and Martavis Bryant by way of a conditional reinstatement. That doesn’t bode well for Coates, who could be fighting for a roster spot in the coming weeks. Rodgers, who primarily played in the slot last season, has good quickness and hands, but Smith-Schuster brings a different set of skills with his size and physicality.
Look for Smith-Schuster to impress the team early and earn valuable snaps as a No. 3 receiver. He can be an Anquan Boldin-type player for the Steelers to complement Antonio Brown and Bryant.